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Gas City Speedway emerges from winter hibernation

By CHUCK LANDIS - clandis@chronicle-tribune.com

The only racing going on Indiana so far this spring would involve polar bears, but the Gas City/I-69 Speedway attempts to change that with Sunday afternoon’s test-and-tune session.

New track promoter Jerry Gappens and his team along with drivers in 12 different divisions will take to the quarter-mile dirt track and make final preparations for the April 20 season opener. The practice from 3 to 7 p.m. is open to the public with grandstand seating free of charge and pit passes available for $20. Concession stands will be closed.

“Basically, it gives us an opportunity to test prepping the track after the winter,” Gappens said Thursday evening. “... And with 12 different divisions coming to the track this year it gives them an opportunity to test and tune as well.

“You’ll see a wide variety of cars coming to the track and get to make adjustments and get a read on what they need to do to their cars before they come back and race in the season,” Gappens added.

Inclement weather once again could be a problem for the practice. The forecast for Sunday calls for steady rain and falling temperatures possibly back into the 50s or lower.

“I also heard it might stop mid-morning to noon on Sunday and if that’s the case and depending how much rain we get Saturday and Sunday we’ll still try and have it,” Gappens said. “I hope we get it in because it’s a good tuneup opportunity for all these people coming in and it’s a good opportunity for our track and sets the tone for the grand reopening.”

While Gappens isn’t sure how many teams will participate in the test session, with all the new divisions scheduled to race he expects those drivers will want to get a feel for the track.

“There’s a lot of series that haven’t been here before such as the Kenyon midgets or haven’t been here in a long time like the 600ccs,” he said. “And even though the mods have been here there are new drivers, and teams can give a chance to have family member race the car and it’s not a points night.

“(Teams) can do some things they don’t normally get to do when you’re in the heat of a season,” he added.

The unusually cool spring has thwarted any attempts for Indiana tracks to go racing. But more seasonal temperatures arrived at midweek and conditions appear favorable for nearby Kokomo Speedway to open this evening.

“With weather playing havoc on all Indiana tracks this year no one’s got a race in yet,” Gappens said. “It certainly puts us behind in getting the outside work done on the track. We’ve been working really hard the last few days and have people coming in to help and we’re trying to get ready.

“What you see on Sunday is not what you will see on Friday — it will be totally different, I promise. A lot of people have cabin fever and will want to come out and check it out and see what’s going on.”

Gappens is a long-time race track executive with experience at the Charlotte, North Carolina, and New Hampshire superspeedways, but it has been more than 20 years since he operated a dirt track. He has been assembling a team to help him prepare the track while getting assistance from track owner Jack Himelick and former promoter Jiggs Thomason among others.

Gas City under Gappens will stage 17 races this season after operating on a limited schedule the two previous years under the previous promoters, KMS Promotions, Kankakee, Illinois. Gappens signed a lease agreement in January with Himelick and has been playing catchup to get the track ready for the new season.

Among the improvements is a new track public address system installed just last weekend.

“It’s got all new speakers and state of the art similar to the speakers at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway,” Gappens said.

Gappens has been spreading the word about Gas City through a steady dose of print and television advertising and believes it has helped regenerate interest in the track.

“I feel really good based on what I’m hearing out in the community and with social media buzz,” he said. “A lot of people seem to be happy the track is back to a full-time events schedule and we got a lot of positive feedback from that.

“I’m generally an optimistic person but I expect to have a great crowd and great car count and think have a really good show. Especially after what’s been happening this spring — it’s been such a long winter and people haven’t had chance to go out and enjoy racing.”