Larry Burton exercises contract option

Local business owners Jim Bawden and Henry Hodges Jr. announced Friday that Champion Motor Speedway owner Larry Burton bought out their lease/option to buy the track and will return as owner/operator for the 2004 season.

Burton purchased the track in 1990 from Les Kynett. Burton, who retired as promoter/manager in 2001 will take over immediately to prepare for the season. He also indicated Kynett will return as general manager and promoter.

"Both Jim and Henry are so busy they don't have time for it," Burton said. "They called me (about taking it back) and I told them I could get interested. So, I bought the two years remaining on their lease."

Burton lauds Kynett's expertise in gaining sponsorship and in day-to-day operations and said if anybody could get the job done, it would be Kynett.

"He's the man, not me," Burton said. "He's the lessee of the property. He's leasing it from me, for as long as the track is there, maybe, who knows how long. But Les has been around for years and years and knows everyone around. He's truly the best I've ever seen - next to myself when I was in my prime."

Bawden and Hodges recently hired Dan White from Yucaipa, Calif. as general manager. White said he is disappointed race fans won't get the race program they deserve under his guidance.

"I'm so disappointed I won't be able to show Jim and Henry what we could do with the track," White said. "I hope for the race fans they understand. I wasn't here to blow smoke.

"I'm going to look for other things to do. I wish the race fans the best, they deserve it. There are some really nice people here and they have been great to me. Everybody gave me nothing but support."

Burton acknowledged Bawden and Hodges have put a great deal of money into the racetrack and made them a "very reasonable" offer in buying them out.

"For what they spent to what they got back was very reasonable, or I wouldn't have done it," Burton said.

"There's not many privately-owned tracks left. Most are on fairgrounds now. This is a five-month racing season here, I've got to be able to pay the mortgage. It's very difficult to make a profit, but if anybody can do it, Les Kynett can. I don't know how he does it but he fills the stands and, he loves the sport of auto racing. And he loves this track. I've seen a lot (of managers) come and go and he's the best I've seen."

Burton said the deal was finalized over the past two days. He's not interested in operations, which is why he has Kynett in the position of general manager.

"Now, I work in the back yard," he said. "Can you believe that? A grown man who used to race cars is now planting flowers."

Bawden said he and Hodges have primary businesses that have grown substantially over the past three years, leaving little time for speedway business.

"Landmark Homes and Development and Paragon have grown tremendously," he said. "Both companies will relocate their corporate offices to Reno later this year. Myself and C.J. (son) will have a difficult time making race events, notwithstanding, overseeing operations of the speedway. I just do not have the time any longer.

"We have brought the speedway a long way in the past three years, making many improvements. Larry tells us he is rejuvenated and ready to take over the operations again with new vigor. We are convinced this will be a good situation for us, Larry, the racing community and the fans."

Hodges and Bawden will continue to compete, as time allows, at Champion Motor Speedway.

Kynett, who is still employed as director of sponsor development for western states with the United States Auto Club, said he will stay on with them until their season begins in March, but knows he needs to get busy with Champion Motor Speedway soon.

"The plan is to pick up where we (Burton and I) left off in 2001," Kynett said. "It was a very successful year of rebuilding. I'd like to continue with that heartbeat. Fill the grandstands, get the car counts up and build the excitement."

Kynett said he does not want to delay in getting staff together and does not plan any drastic changes to a schedule already in place.

"I will probably have more special events to invite cars from other tracks, like Roseville, Ukiah and Stockton. Just some minor changes and improvements that I can see. Bigger purse money for 100-lappers.

"This has happened real quick. I want to be the best of the best of the best. That's the goal."

Contact Rhonda Costa-Landers at or 881-1223.


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