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Skinner returns to helm at Speedway

John Skinner said he would rather be nursing a cold drink and watching the racing world fly by him on warm Saturday nights at Southern Oregon Speedway.

But since he can't now, the owner and new general manager of the track in White City is prepared to put on one heck of a show.

"I'd rather not be making the decisions," Skinner says. "But since I have to, I'm running the fun stuff now. Motorcycle jumps, demolition derbies, flat-track motorcycles."

The 57-year-old once again assumed the GM position after cutting ties with managing partners Richard Barney and Ric Donnelly. Skinner was the GM from 1995 to 2007.

"It's almost like having a barbecue for 3,000 people a week and nobody likes you," Skinner said of the job's responsibilities. "You take the heat, and it is so much work. Do you have the right trophies? Do you have enough toilet paper? It goes on and on."

But the show must go on, he figured.

"I want people to have a great time when they are here," Skinner added.

Skinner is no newbie to the business. Where others saw empty fields 15 years ago, Skinner envisioned cement, stands and the resurrection of racing in the Rogue Valley.

With an enormous investment and plenty of man hours, the speedway arose.

Fifteen years later, the wheels are still turning and burning.

"Everything in my life has to do with cars," said Skinner, who also owns Skinner Autoplex.

Skinner recently signed a five-year lease with Jackson County Parks and is gearing up for the season opener — the Pear Blossom Special — on Saturday.

"I've got to make it profitable because it's costly," Skinner said. "It's a good thing for the county."

Modified and sprint drivers will race for $1,000 prizes on Saturday, when pro stocks, Super 4's, street stocks and mini stocks will also be on display. Late-model racing kicks off on April 24 at the one-third-mile clay oval track. Gates open at 4 p.m. with races starting at 6.

For the complete schedule, visit sospeedway.com.

Skinner's theme for the speedway this season is "Home of extreme family fun." With quad racing, motorcycle stunts and other high-speed entertainment on tap, there should be no shortage of spectacles.

"We'll do something special every week," said Skinner, adding that ticket prices and other costs have been lowered.

The Golden State Challenge Sprint Car Series Western Speedweek arrives June 12. Skinner has attracted several top-flight drivers to the night show, including Slammin' Sammy Swindell. Current NASCAR Sprint Cup star Kasey Kahne is a past participant of the 410 race.

The Lon Skinner Memorial King of the Dirt Coors Light 100, which honors John Skinner's father, is Sept. 4-5. The popular event offers the largest purse for a modified race on the West Coast, with the winner receiving $6,000 of a total $35,000 purse.

Skinner said he is also excited about the inclusion of the Gene Romero West Coast Flat Track Series, where motorcyclists take sliding turns at super speeds. Romero, a revolutionary rider whose success earned him a spot in the Motorcycle Hall of Fame, will be present during the July 16-17 show.

The Roger Lorenzini Sr. Memorial Battle at the Border late models races are Sept. 24-25.

Packed in between is a medley of motoring mayhem.

Last year's champions included Charlie Thompson (sprint cars), Mark Wauge (modifieds), Frank Word III (pro stocks), Parker Jones (super fours), Greg Denton (dwarf cars) and John Derby (mini stocks).

Reach reporter Dan Jones at 541-776-4499, or e-mail djones@mailtribune.com