It's been a slow, tedious progress -- including more than 30 days of clearing tumbleweeds -- but construction has ramped up at Kern County Raceway Park, and if all goes well there could be racing in October.
"There's days I come out here and think no way it can happen, but at the same time we've got a lot accomplished," said Daniel Smith, who organized investors to help bring the foreclosed project back to life.
Ground-breaking on the track took place in February 2007 with racing planned for 2008, but the project ran into money problems. A $4.5 million loan was made to Enos Lane Farm Properties LLC, managed by Alan Destefani in March 2008. Construction slowed to a crawl as the year wore on and a default notice on the $4.5-million loan was filed in December 2008. The 490-acre property was foreclosed on in 2010.
Smith, the project coordinator, and James Vernon, an investor, have spent countless hours at the partially finished half-mile facility and adjoining acreage since Feb. 1, when it was announced the purchase was in escrow.
"We're trying to do a three-day race in October, then have four months to get ready for next year," said Vernon, who owns several Bakersfield businesses and was a former racer at the old Mesa Marin Raceway in East Bakersfield. "We can do a lot of stuff in that time."
Both Smith and Vernon said there has been a lot done since February, most of it not really noticeable.
The biggest job was the clearing of tumbleweeds.
"You couldn't get to the race track for the tumbleweeds," Vernon said. "Actually we got an old junk pickup and drove over the top of them, blazed our own trail, pushed them out of the way. There was over 30 days of nothing but clearing tumbleweeds."
"I had nightmares of tumbleweeds," Smith added. "It seemed like they were in every crack and crevice."
There was also the matter of getting the water well back on line after copper wiring was stolen, obtaining permits and the original plans from the county, calling subcontractors -- some of whom worked on the original project -- and seeing if they were interested in working with the project again, getting in touch with the asphalt consultants, putting projects out to bid and starting the process of lining up vendors and sponsors as well as a multitude of other behind-the-scenes chores.
"We knew it was going to be a lot of work," Smith said. "We just had to get to the bottom of everything, find out where everything had stopped. We had to dig and grind. The county has bent over backward to work with us and given us all the tools we need, all the paperwork, to help us. The community support has been overwhelming."
And now progress can be witnessed by those traveling on Interstate 5 or Enos Lane as they zoom past. The iron for the four-story structure, which includes concessions, offices and two levels of suites, is going up.
"Now we can make progress and have crews out here woking day after day after day," Smith said. "Before we had to work very slowly."
Ground work has begun on the infield and concession stand, additional parking lot drainage work (most of it was completed before the shutdown) is set to get under way, work on infield retaining walls should begin this week and the final layer of asphalt should be down by the end of June.
"If everything goes right, we'll definitely be testing by September," Vernon said. "We have people wanting to test. We have people wanting to make commercials out here already, but we're not ready for them. We'd like to be, but we're not."
The list of individual projects that need to be completed seems endless and Vernon said not everything could be accomplished by October. But he thinks the majority of the major projects can be completed to give racers and fans a quality experience.
"Hopefully we'll be finished enough so we can have a good event, then we have four months to finish things up and the racers have four months to get ready for the next year," he said.
Construction updates will be listed periodically at the track's website, www.kernraceway.com.