Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

February 5, 2014

Botkin hits Gas City with fresh ideas

New I-69 Speedway promoter wants to take the track "a notch higher."


Kokomo Tribune

---- — Trophy Dashes, midgets on a weekly basis and a different plan of attack are just a few things that new promoter Mel Botkin has in mind for his first season at the Gas City I-69 Speedway.

Botkin, the owner of John Wolfe’s No. 3M during a pair of championship seasons at the track, noted he still is talking to folks and trying to come up with ideas in hopes of bringing fans out in droves.

“I am a retired school teacher and a basketball referee,” said Botkin. “So, over the years I’ve learned to treat people a certain way and I feel like I know how to motivate people. I think those are qualities that are essential in running a race track. Not saying that anyone did anything wrong in the past, Jiggs [Thomason] did an outstanding job. I hope to come up with some different ideas though to make things different from any other track. To make the fans have a good time and look forward to coming back next week.”

The first change, Botkin noted, was the Trophy Dash.

“I want to pay each driver who races in it [Trophy Dash],” he said. “We will take the fastest six qualifiers and draw for position for the Dash. Maybe have the drivers who compete throw in one of their T-shirts. Then after the race is completed, maybe have the drivers available to the fans for a few minutes to sign autographs.”

Another change Botkin is leaning towards is single car qualifying rather than drawing pills or group qualifying.

“I’ve been to Kokomo and other tracks that use the group qualifying and I really think that we could go with single car qualifying and get completed in roughly the same amount of time,” he said. “If you look at tracks that group qualify, there is a lot of time wasted while all the cars in each group make their way to the track, then to get spread out before taking the green.”

Perhaps the biggest change is the addition of midgets to the schedule on a weekly basis.

“I’ve talked with some folks who said that they would love to see more of the midgets,” Botkin stated. “There are a lot of them [midgets] out there with really no place to race on a regular basis. USAC doesn’t have all that many events for those cars now so there is a void that we hope we can fill by adding them to our card along with the sprint cars, modifieds and Thunder Cars.”

Botkin noted that in the Thunder Car division his plans are simple — to make it affordable for drivers who race at other tracks to race at his track each week.

“I’ve been told that Gas City has always had a stricter policy towards that division,” he said. “From what I understand both Kokomo and Montpelier’s rules are comparable so we are basically saying that if you can run there you’re welcome to run here.”

Botkin realizes that stepping in following a legend like Thomason is tough, but he feels he’s up to the challenge.

“I had spoken with Jack [Himelick, track owner] and told him it would be fascinating to run a race track,” Botkin said. “So when Jiggs decided to step away, Jack contacted me and we decided to give it a try.

“Some folks think I have some off-the-wall ideas. But my main goal is to get folks excited about coming out to watching the races each week. I hope to see more kids because they are the future of the sport. Jiggs did a fantastic job over the years so I hope to take what he did very well and some of my ideas and incorporate them and take this track a notch higher. I’ve talked with the track prep guys and we are going to try and make the track a two-groove track where a person can win running the top or the bottom. I remember seeing Dustin Smith win a race stuck right on the bottom of the track with Brandon Petty running 20 or 30 miles per hour faster up high trying to run him down. I’d like to see the track like that each week.”

Botkin said that he has some other special shows lined up and would be releasing a full schedule of events in the near future.

DARLAND CLAIMS WINTER CHALLENGE

Dave Darland, formerly of Lincoln, picked up the Winter Challenge championship in Peoria, Ariz., a six-race special event for the USAC West Coast/Southwest Series Sprint Cars.

Spread out over two weekends, Darland emerged victorious in three of the six shows, most recently Friday night after duking it out with Josh Hodges. Colby Copeland and Richard Vander Weerd also scored feature wins over the weekend.

Darland and the rest of the USAC Amsoil National Sprint Car Series now are eyeing the Bubba’s Army Winter Nationals at the Bubba Raceway Park in Ocala, Fla. The season kicks off Feb. 20-22.

Brett Bowman is the Tribune’s lead auto racing columnist. He may be reached by email at brettbowman29@aol.com or through the sports department.