Raceway gets season underway in Elma

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Brendan Carl | The Vidette Austin Kerrigan, left, won the third street stock qualifier on his way to a feature victory at the Grays Harbor Raceway opener on Saturday night.
Austin Kerrigan drove his 1969 Ford Mustang to victory in the street stock feature race on Saturday.
More than 1,000 fans were on hand to watch the opening races of the 2014 season at Grays Harbor Raceway.
Brendan Carl | The Vidette Jeremy Miller (46) of Montesano was one of several drivers to lead a lap in the midgets on Saturday.

The 2014 Grays Harbor Raceway season began with just a few hiccups on Saturday, but more than a few cheers as well.

After an offseason that was highlighted by the Grays Harbor County Commissioners canceling the leasing contract with Great Northwest Promotions LLC and the selection of Funtime Promotions Inc., as the new raceway promoter, many were anxious as to whether there would be any racing at the facility in Elma this season. Even more questions arose when Great Northwest seemingly drug its feet getting off of the property. Funtime Promotions owner Steve Beitler and his work crews were not able to get onto the property until early March, but Beitler never waiver as to the amount of activity the raceway would see this season. On Saturday, he stood on the track to welcome more than 1,000 race fans into the stands moments before the national anthem.

“I was very pleased with tonight,” Beitler said. “We were so far behind. We got the track so late that we needed eight to 10 weeks to get it ready and we only had six. I’m just so pleased tonight with the outcome because everybody worked so many hours the last two weeks. The whole night went really good. The track was outstanding — beautiful racetrack tonight. The guys did a good job racing, and I was really pleased with the crowd that showed up.

Opening night was originally scheduled for May 10, but the track was too wet to race on two weeks ago. A few sunny days during last week allowed for crews to provide an almost-perfect surface for the cars to race on Saturday as four classes took to the track.

Chad Norton of Tenino won the Outlaw Tuners feature race; Chase Goetz of Snohomish raced to victory in the Midgets; Mike Romig of Vancouver earned his first victory at Grays Harbor Raceway in the Non-wing Sprints. The Street Stocks was the only class to go to a Grays Harbor native as 18-year-old Austin Kerrigan of Aberdeen took the checkered flag in his 1969 Ford Mustang.

Kerrigan comes from a racing family as his father Shane was on his son’s heels for most of the feature race.

“My dad used to race 18 years ago in the bomber division and I just finally got him into racing a hornet three years ago, and then we raced the hornet for half the season and then we got into street stocks again,” Kerrigan said.

For the young driver who began his racing career at Grays Harbor Raceway, it was just good to be tearing up some dirt in his white No. AK47.

“It is like a kick in the pants,” Kerrigan said. “It means a lot. A lot of my friends come out and they see you. It feels good.”

Despite an almost countless number of hours crews spent working on the facility before the opening night there were still a few items left unfinished as the opening day arrived, most notably the lack of a properly working scoreboard and no beer sales. The late turnover date of the facility to Funtime Promotions did not allow enough time for a liquor license and several wires were found to be cut in the scoreboard system, leaving a few fans thirsty and some others keeping score manually.

Track announcer Phil Martelli said the few hiccups are just to be expected on an opening night of the season. Martelli should know, Saturday was his 29th opening night at Grays Harbor Raceway.

“For the opening night I thought it went very smooth,” Martelli said. “We have to get our scoreboard working. They have done a lot of work in the last two weeks here. I think the raceway means a lot to people and I can tell by the turnout. From the feedback I’m getting I think the people are happy and it is only going to get better.”

While Beitler was happy with the program put on at the raceway on Saturday, he said he expects the show to improve with each week.

“There were just some of the normal gremlins, but that is OK,” Beitler said. “The show still went on and the majority of the people in the grandstands don’t know what went on behind the scenes. We got a whole laundry list of things we want to do for next week to make it better. I know what myself and my crew is capable of doing and I know we are capable of putting on a really good program and I think we showed tonight that for being just three or four weeks behind in getting this thing open that there are going to be good things coming for Grays Harbor Raceway.”