Scott Schweitzer gazed over the Bakersfield Speedway track before a test session, smiled, was animated and appeared ready for the season to begin.
Opening night is set for Saturday and Schweitzer is looking forward to the roar of engines and the smell of popcorn.
That is a far cry from a year ago when a seemingly detached Schweitzer just sort of zombied his way through the season due to the grief over the loss of his daughter, Bailey, who died in the Route 91 shooting in Las Vegas a few months earlier.
Time certainly doesn’t heal the those wounds, but more than a year removed from the tragedy Schweitzer is now better prepared to deal with his business as owner/operator of the Speedway.
“We went through a year of firsts with everything after the loss of our daughter and it was a tough year, no doubt,” Schweitzer said. “I didn’t spend as much time out here as needed because I was concentrating on my family.
“I’m not saying we’re OK now. We’re still on the road to recovery but I do know I’m a little more ready, have a little more drive in me to do that. I have to say my staff is wonderful, they pick up the slack and take care of it, whether it’s my family or John Flippen and all the officials.”
Seventy-one drivers in a total of 13 different classes took to the the third-mile clay oval last Saturday night in an open test session.
“I’m looking forward to a new year,” Schweitzer said. “We have some new faces down in the pits, some new racers and I’m really looking forward to 2019.”
Fans at the track will notice one major improvement as the small infield track, used in the past primarily for Mini Dwarfs, has been moved and reconfigured.
The track, which had been flat, has been pushed back toward the rear straight and a bit south towards turns one and two and is now banked with wall around all but the front stretch facing the grandstands.
The primary reason for the change: the addition of Outlaw Karts, though a Mini Dwarf test session did play a role.
“I had a Mini Dwarf practicing during the offseason and he just held it flat footed on the old track and I was like, that’s not really racing,” Schweitzer said. “I wanted to build a track where they have to get off the gas and turn and go around the corner and get back on.”
The newly configured track is shaped more like a paper clip, is banked about four feet in the corners and will feature a grass infield.
“It’s been a lot of work (as was not yet finished at practice day),” Schweitzer said. “The Outlaw Kart deal has exploded in popularity so we’re jumping on the bandwagon.”
Schweitzer brought power to the infield from the back side so the start-finish line of the small track will actually be on the backstretch. There will be a timing loop so cars can be scored via transponders and the walls will feature safety lights.
The new track will be ready on March 9 when Mini Dwarfs compete for the first time. The first of about a half dozen Outlaw Kart races is March 23.
The Western Race Saver Sprints, Sport Mods, Hobby Stocks and American Stocks kick off the season with racing starting at 7.
With the opener set for Saturday night, Schweitzer is once again keeping his eye on the sky. His first three events, a record, were rained out last year.
“We gotta get through the months of March,” he said. “We’ve already had a lot of rain and I’m looking at the forecasts.”