Bob Lidell burned a lot of rubber at the Champion Raceway drag strip Monday in White City, gearing up for a night of flames, alcohol and nitro on Friday.
Lidell, 64, of Redding, Calif., has taken over the quarter-mile strip after the previous operator decamped earlier this year. He even took on the more mundane task of scraping off old rubber from the starting line.
Jackson County officials were on the verge of declaring the racing season at the drag strip kaput when Lidell, who runs the Redding Drag Strip, stepped in this spring.
"He's a big improvement over the last guy," said 59-year-old Klamath Falls resident Josh Moreland.
Moreland and five other volunteers took on the sweaty task of preparing the track for the Julian Gonsalves Memorial Charity Race on Friday and Saturday.
Lidell held a propane torch to heat up a layer of old rubber near the starting line, then scraped it off. A new surface will be laid down, providing extra grip for dragsters and funny cars, whose tires spin so fast they are engulfed in a cyclone of smoke, while their eye-stinging nitromethane- or alcohol-fueled engines rev up with savage ferocity.
Lidell said he was looking forward to a good turnout this weekend, hoping to receive donations for the Southern Oregon Meth Project and the Youth Education Success program. Gonsalves was a local drag-racing enthusiast who died last year.
Lidell, a swimming pool contractor in Redding, said he's striving for a more family-friendly atmosphere. He wants to overcome the bad publicity the track received over the past year and develop a strong relationship with the county, which owns the track.
"It seems like things are progressing," he said.
With attendance numbers increasing, Lidell said he probably will request that his contract be extended.
"The odds of us continuing on for the next two years are pretty strong," he said.
The previous owner, Jim Taylor, pulled out equipment from the drag strip a couple of months before the start of the season in April. He said the county wasn't willing to invest in maintenance of the track.
The county found Taylor violated his lease, and it eventually purchased the equipment, including lights, timers, sensors, readouts and an emergency net.
Taylor paid the county a lease of $1 a year, but was required to make annual improvements of $10,000.
Under the new arrangement with Lidell, the county will receive a percentage of gross revenues.
If the drag strip makes $100,000, the county will receive 5 percent. If the strip grosses from $100,000 to $175,000, the county will get 7 percent. If the strip makes more than $175,000, the county will receive 10 percent.
Although it's too early to tell how successful the enterprise will be, the county already has heard favorable comments from the racing community.
"We couldn't be happier with Bob Lidell," said John Vial, director of county parks and roads. "He is a quality businessman, and people like working with him."
The county requires monthly financial reports as well as a report at the end of the season.
Vial said the county won't get rich off the agreement with Lidell, but he hopes the relationship turns into a venture that will attract more visitors to the Jackson County Sports Park off Highway 140.
The county's contract with Lidell is handled much like a concession operation.
Lidell said he's got high hopes for the track, which he thinks has a lot of potential to attract racers and spectators.
"It's a diamond in the rough," he said.
For more information on the Julian Gonsalves Memorial Charity Race, visit www.championraceway.com.
Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476, or email email@example.com.