Track transformers

WEST FARGO -- Saying that Danny Schatz is trying to spruce up the Red River Valley Speedway is like saying a quadruple bypass is minor surgery. After signing a lease to take over control of the West Fargo track, Schatz is in the midst of transfor...

Red River Valley Speedway
Photo by Michael Vosburg/Forum Communications Co. A load of clay is deposited Friday on the east turn of the Red River Valley Speedway's new 3/8-mile track. The new race track management expects the clay to improve the racing surface.

WEST FARGO -- Saying that Danny Schatz is trying to spruce up the Red River Valley Speedway is like saying a quadruple bypass is minor surgery.

After signing a lease to take over control of the West Fargo track, Schatz is in the midst of transforming the facility into something brand-spanking new.

"You know when you take a trip, and you get out to where you have to turn around and head home?" Schatz said. "That's where we kind of feel like we're at now.

"We're at that turnaround point where we're coming back. We've gutted everything."

With a month to go before the scheduled opener on May 26, the RRVS is a shell of its former self -- literally.


The most publicized change has been moving the track from a half-mile to a three-eighth-mile oval.

That has entailed digging up the old track and staking out where they wanted the new track to be. Schatz even wanted that to be perfect.

"We had 800 stakes out there to where we thought the track should be," said Ivan Sailer, Schatz's operations director. "He wasn't sure it was right, so we took them all out and adjusted them.

"Now we think we've got it where we like it."

Schatz said he wanted the track to be a tighter competitive circuit, but he also wanted the new oval to be positioned to where every seat in the grandstand had a good view.

"Just about everywhere, you can look in front of you and see everything," Schatz said. "And I've sat in every one of these seats. You want fans to come, don't you? That's the most important thing."

Thousands of pounds of clay -- Sailer wasn't sure how many pounds yet -- will be trucked in to form the new track.

"It's going to be a lot," Sailer said. "We'll start hauling in all of the new clay next week."


Think one-eighth of a mile isn't very far? From the wall on the old Turn 3 to where the outside of the new track will be is about the length of a quarter of a football field.

"You don't think of it as being that far, but a lot of people don't want to park that far away from the front of the grocery store," Schatz said.

Schatz has also installed a transponder system for lap counting. Each car will be fitted with a transponder, which will record when they cross over a cable buried in the track at the finish line.

Not only will it help to easily count laps, but it will also give drivers lap times throughout the course of a race.

"When there's a caution, we can hit a button and it will immediately give us a lineup," Sailer said. "We're worried about cutting off unnecessary minutes, and that's where you start."

Because the new track is smaller, there will be no more pit area in the center of the track. All of the pits will be on the south end of the track, but Schatz would like to get an entrance on the east end of the track, too.

Schatz wants to get a pit grandstand built south of Turn 3, and said he'd also like to get a bathroom and concession stand back for the pits, too.

"There are a lot of things that I want to have," Schatz said. "But I think I've got to have them, too. We want this thing to work."


But the changes to the track aren't even the half of it.

The old men's bathroom has been completely removed, and the bar has been completely gutted, right down to sandblasting layers and layers of paint off the floor.

New concession stands were opened midway through last year, and the old concession stands will be used as "express" concessions, Sailer said.

The tower for the workers is also getting a complete remodeling.

"We've got quite a bit going on our here," Sailer said with a laugh. "And everything's moving along nicely.

"We've been really fortunate because the weather has been -- well, I shouldn't even talk about that."

Sailer said that some construction will continue throughout the summer as the track wants to get the east end available for pits and parking.

"We're going to continue to work until we think everything is in place for us," Sailer said. "We can't stop. We want to put on the best show we possibly can.


"And we hope to continue to grow."

Schatz, who estimated that he spends roughly 14 hours at the track each day, said there was still a lot of work to do in the month before the opener.

"I don't know if I'm behind schedule because I didn't set one, and I don't know if I'm over budget because we didn't set one of those either," Schatz said. "It's going pretty good, but we're not done yet."

Collins is a sports reporter for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.

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