By JAYSON JACOBY
Of the Baker City Herald
A Baker City non-profit groups effort to build an auto racing park has accelerated over the past three months like a top fuel dragster pulling away from an AMC Pacer with fouled spark plugs.
In fact, race drivers soon will be flooring their gas pedals where, as recently as early April, there was only sagebrush and cheatgrass.
The first race at Thunder Mountain Motor Sports Park, which is just off Interstate 84 at the eastbound Pleasant Valley exit (No. 313; westbound drivers exit at 316), is scheduled for Sunday, July 15.
Racing will take place from noon to 5 p.m., with a ribbon-cutting ceremony scheduled at 1:30 p.m.
Admission is $5 for adults, $3 for senior citizens, and free for kids 12 and under. Pit passes cost $8.
The July 15 event will take place on the parks first track a 3/10th-of-a-mile dirt oval at the southeast corner of the 87-acre property.
Thunder Mountain Motor Sports Association officials hope to build a quarter-mile drag racing strip next year, said Terry Schumacher, president of the associations board of directors.
Weve got more work to do, but its happening, Schumacher said last week. Its not a figment of our imagination anymore.
Certainly theres nothing imaginary about the changes that have happened at the park since the April 10 ground-breaking ceremony.
In addition to building the circle track, crews have carved out the entrance road, parking areas, and the return lane drag racers will follow from the end of the strip back to the pit areas.
The road, parking lots and return lane are all paved with ground-up asphalt from a repaving project on nearby Interstate 84, Schumacher said.
Thunder Mountain bought the grindings for $23,000 from J.C. Compton Contractor Inc., the McMinnville company that did the freeway work.
Workers also have installed a more powerful pump in the propertys well, as well as a water line from the well to a 10,000-gallon tank near the circle track. Track volunteers will use that water to keep the dust down and for fire protection.
Although Thunder Mountain is still raising money to pave the drag strip that will cost an estimated $175,000 to $250,000 the organization recently received a huge boost from the Oregon Army National Guard, Schumacher said.
With help from Brian Cole, chairman of the Baker County Board of Commissioners, and State Sen. Ted Ferrioli, Thunder Mountain has a commitment from the National Guard to do all the earth-moving and theres a lot of earth to move needed to make the quarter-mile drag strip tabletop flat.
An engineer estimates that work would cost $250,000, Schumacher said.
Several local businesses also have donated labor and equipment to help build the park.
Triple C Redi-Mix provided the heavy equipment to build the roads and shape the circle track, Schumacher said.
Garry McLin donated the labor to install a fence Thunder Mountain built, and Behlen Mfg. Co. donated gates for the parks entrance.
Schumacher said an anonymous donor helped the association buy a fire truck, and Spence Industrial Supply has agreed to supply a truck until Thunder Mountains truck is ready.
He said the associations pumper should be available for the three other circle track races set for this summer, on Aug. 12, Aug. 26 and Sept. 23.
Theres been a lot of guys giving a lot of time, Schumacher said.
New members from La Grande
He said Thunder Mountains work on the circle track has gained the group more than just a place to race it also added 24 new members, bringing the total to about 90.
The 24 new members are from the now-defunct La Grande Racing Association, he said.
Thunder Mountain contacted that group earlier this year because the La Grande association has been racing for years on a circle track at the Union County Fairgrounds.
Schumacher said Thunder Mountain officials wanted to make sure none of their races coincided with events at La Grande.
But those initial conversations led to more than a coordination of schedules.
The La Grande group decided to disband, join Thunder Mountain, and concentrate on the new Baker County circle track, which Schumacher said is longer and considerably wider than the one at the Union County Fairgrounds.
Schumacher said the super stock cars (there are mini and stock classes, too) should hit 100 mph on Thunder Mountains track, compared with a top end of about 60 at La Grande.
Building a permanent drag strip has been Thunder Mountains main goal for several years.
The organization raced at the Baker City Municipal Airport for a few years in the mid 1990s, but the city stopped those events after the Federal Aviation Administration told the city that if it continued to allow racing, the city might not receive the federal grants needed to maintain the airport.
Schumacher, who describes himself as a cruiser, not a racer, said he volunteers his time to coordinate work at the Sports Park because he believes it will benefit Baker Countys economy and create new family-oriented events for residents.
Im in this for what I beleive itll do for the community, he said. I think its going to be great.
More information about Thunder Mountains racing schedule and other activities is available at its web site, www.easy-finder.com/thundermountain/index.htm.