BAKERSFIELD, California — You simply can't find a racing fan in the western states who doesn't miss the former Mesa Marin Raceway in Bakersfield-California. By the same token you can't find a racing fan from the left coast who isn't anxiously waiting for good news regarding the completion of the Kern River Raceway, the proposed motor sports showplace designed to return racing back to Bakersfield as it should be.
That includes Marion Collins the creator and operator of Mesa Marin and one of the motivating forces in the future return of racing to Bakersfield. Collins made a surprise visit to the Willow Springs International Motor Sports Park in Rosamond on Sunday, October 25th. He was specifically there to observe a test session from his High School Racing Series. The Mojave High School Mustangs were at the complex to test their newly built street stock race car.The High School racing Series is near and dear to Collins. It was just one of his many innovative ideas that made Mesa Marin Raceway so special.
Collins ventured over to the Willow Springs Speedway, the quarter mile paved oval located within the motor sports park, where Stock Car Syndicate was conducting another one of their Sunday afternoon races from their winter series. Collins dropped by to check out the action, meet the new promoters and to say hello to some long time friends.
He was also amendable to discussing the current status of the highly anticipated Kern River Raceway. "The construction is still in a state of shut down right now due to the situation associated with the financing," he said adding "but the financial picture is coming around and I'm extremely optimistic that it will be resolved soon and we can resume the final phase of construction in December. It will only take about six months to complete the construction."
Included in that final construction process is the need for additional layers of asphalt for the track surface as well as an additional layer on the track's infield pit area. Also still outstanding the construction of the multi story administration building that will house the track's business office, timing and scoring facility as well as the concession stands and restrooms.
Mesa Marin Raceway was operated by the Collins family, Marion, Shirley and Larry, and had an outstanding run from 1977 to 2005. However in 2005 the portion of California's Kern County occupied by the raceway was in the midst of a tremendous housing boom that was rapidly approaching the track. It wasn't long before county government informed the Collins that their condition use permit was not going to be renewed and they should consider selling the track or relocating it. Relocation was out of the question at that time and the race track was sold to a housing developer. The final tear filled night came in mid October of that year.
But the sadness turned to jubilation in December of that year with the announcement of plans to build the Kern River Raceway. It was a joint venture between the Collins family and the Destefanis, a well known business family associated with the agriculture industry. The plan called for the Destifanis to sell a massive piece of agriculture real estate to provide the financing for the new track estimated to be in the range of $30 million.
While an act of so called progress locked the gates to Mesa Marin Raceway forever it was a lack of progress that stalled the Kern River Raceway. The purchaser of the Destifani land simply could not arrange the bank financing to proceed with his plans and the deal fell through. This occurred during the opening phase of the mortgage lending crisis that still continues to grip the nation today. This, in turn, led to the current shut down of the construction.
Despite the down turn in the raceway's finances, Marion Collins remains extremely optimistic that the raceway construction will resume in December and, without divulging the pertinent details, said "the money is coming around." You could clearly see the excitement in his eyes while he spoke about the new track. "It's going to be a state of the art show place," he said adding "and there's going to be plenty of unprecedented special shows such as the special Late Model racing weekend backed with a $125,000 purse. It's the same show that I hoped to do last October before the shut down occurred. The initial news of this race was huge. I actually received calls from race teams as far away as Canada and North Carolina asking what's going on with this race. We will be putting that show on. There's also plans for a special show with the SRL, (Stock Car Racing League), that involves an unprecedented $30,000 purse."
Collins plans on continue his long time association with NASCAR who will sanction the new raceway as they did with Mesa Marin. "I've spoken with Brian France, NASCAR CEO, on the telephone about appearances from his national series," he said adding "there's no way we'll ever see a Sprint Cup race in Bakesfield because the schedule is so full. He also said the only expansion in the NASCAR Nationwide Series will likely be in Canada. But we did talk about the possibility of a NASCAR Craftsman, (soon to be Camping World), Truck Series race for our new track and we plan to pursue that."
A NASCAR Truck Series race at the Kern River Raceway would be filled with a great deal of historical significance. Marion Collins was a part of a small group of businessmen who pitched the idea of a national truck racing series to NASCAR back in the early nineties. It was his son, and premiere race car fabricator, Gary Collins who built the first ever racing truck and the performance of that vehicle, during a test run at Mesa Marin in early 1994, thoroughly convinced NASCAR officials on hand that day that the idea was a winner. The rest turned out to become NASCAR racing history.
While the financial plan for the new raceway continues to be resolved there's always one thing that you can take to the bank: that would be anything that Marion Collins tells you. This is a man who aggressively pursues his ideas until they become reality and he's not a man who backs down to any form of adversity. Don't be too surprised when, in the coming months ahead, we start hearing about the official 2009 racing schedule at the Kern River Raceway.