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Skinner takes over drag strip

A major power surge hit the Jackson County Sports Park drag strip Friday when local racing promoter John Skinner announced he would operate the run-down facility.

Skinner, who built a $1.5 million stock car track in the White City-based Sports Park two years ago and turned it into a huge success, signed a four-year lease agreement with the county earlier this week.

Skinner secured the lease for virtually nothing ($1 per year), but as part of the agreement has promised to spend $75,000 to repave the drag strip surface, refurbish the return roads and buy a state-of-the-art scoreboard that will enable fans to see results within seconds after the smoke has cleared from a race.

In conjunction with the improvements, Skinner has vowed to bring back regional and national caliber events along with the big names of drag racing.

The idea is to restore the track back to its original condition, when it was one of the nicest drag strips on the West Coast, Skinner said at a press conference Friday. Racing is the No. — spectator sport in this country and drag racing ranks second to the Winston Cup in popularity.

Skinner added that the Sports Park drag strip has the potential to be the first 300 mph track in Oregon.

The season will run April 25 to Sept. 27 on a bimonthly basis.

The highlight will be Top Fuel Tuesday on July 28, when members of the National Hot Rod Association's national tour will appear in Medford between stops at Sears Point, Calif., and Seattle.

Top fuel standouts such as Kenny Bernstein and Joe Amatto will compete for a $20,000-to-win prize.

They'll be traveling through the Rogue Valley on their way to Seattle, so they might as well stay in Medford and race on our drag strip, Skinner said.

Skinner also hopes to bring back a divisional race that the local track lost when it began falling into disrepair in the early 1990s.

Reaction from local drag racers to Skinner's taking over the strip seemed positive.

It's going to be a great situation for drag racers and spectators, said Patty Green, secretary of the Oregon Drag Racer's Association and herself a participant at the White City strip. Big events like Top Fuel Tuesday are going to bring in huge numbers of fans and hopefully a lot of them will come back and support the track on a regular basis.

Green said the ODRA took a vote last month on whether to approve Skinner as promoter. He got the green light unanimously, she said.

The track isn't in as bad of shape as some people think, Green added. Most of the repairs are cosmetic. The place basically just needs some TLC and someone to really get things organized.

Scott Pollacheck, the Rogue Valley's No. — motorcycle dragster, said some of his cohorts worry that Skinner's priorities will remain in stock car racing. However, Pollacheck said drag racers can only benefit from Skinner's entrance into the sport.

There's finally going to be some money put into the track, said Pollacheck, who has rarely competed at the White City strip in recent years due to its dilapidated condition and shortage of events. No one else has put anything into the track lately. I've got nothing against John Skinner. I'm all for anyone who wants to improve our situation.

Although stock and drag racing events will often occur on the same days -- Saturday nights, mostly -- the two sports can co-exist, Green said.

The drag strip will be able to accommodate 5,000 spectators, nearly twice what the stock car track can hold.

Wayne Seldon has been hired as the drag strip's new general manager. He previously managed a strip in Great Falls, Mont.