New general manager at Champion Speedway
Champion Speedway will have a new general manager for the 2003 season and after spending some time with him on Friday I came away with one thought:
Carson City now has its own version of Humpy Wheeler. His name is Jeb Onweiler and his self-professed heroes/role models are P.T. Barnum, Bill Veeck, and the aforementioned H. Wheeler. His philosophy is that racing is entertainment and it’s his intention to entertain the fans at Champion Speedway in 2003.
Onweiler is a veritable fountain of promotion ideas and if he can pull off 10 percent of what he splattered on me Friday, Champion Speedway will be an exciting and fun place to be on Saturday nights.
He promised a preview on October 26, when the Nevada Daze CrashClassic at Champion will be part of the Nevada Day festivities. Onweiler has IMCA-style modifieds on tap as the feature division, but it’s about the only straight racing program on the ticket. The rest of the festivities will include Insane Chain Drags, Smokin’ Donut Contest, All-American Motor Meltdown, Schoolbus Bomber and Hornet Exhibition, and the grand finale –the BigDog DemoDaze demolition derby. He also has some other surprises, but swore me to secrecy. In any case, the show
will definitely be a different kind of finale to the Nevada Day celebration for those who elect to participate.
As you can see, racing at Champion Speedway is going to be a little different next season. To be sure, there’s going to be some good racing action amongst all the hoopla. Onweiler has planned a schedule that will alternate Open-Wheel and Stock Car programs. The 360 Sprint cars will return on open wheel nights but they’ll be sporting wings for 2003. Joining them will be
IMCA-style modifieds, Legends, and Bandoleros. Late Models will continue to be the premier division on the stock car side, joined by Sportsmen and Hobby stocks, as last year. The new Hornet division promises to be an interesting addition as the entry level class that just about anybody can afford.
Onweiler told me that Hornets have proven popular at other short ovals and he hopes they will prove so here as well. A Hornet is a mini-stock bomber, a junkyard special (such as a Pinto) with only safety equipment added. If a driver wins two races in the division, the track buys his car for $200 and he has to move up to another division. The idea is to get more fans
out of the stands and into race cars and has apparently worked well elsewhere.
Onweiler has credentials from a host of short tracks in California, Idaho, North Carolina, South Carolina, Oregon, and most recently in Hawaii. In fact, he turned down opportunities at a couple of large racing facilities to take the Champion job.
“I’m basically a short-track, Saturday night kind of guy,”
he said. “I’d rather see the results of what I do on a weekly basis than spend months planning for two or three big events.” Onweiler is replacing the husband/wife team of Jim and Kris Martin. The Martins had agreed to manage the track on an interim basis until someone with the right background could
be hired and track owners Jim Bawden and Henry Hodges believe that Onweiler is that man. Onweiler was highly complimentary of the job that Kris and Jim have done with the track this year, particularly in the face of a shaky post-9/11 economy.
I also spoke with Kris Martin, who has mixed feelings about leaving her interim position. “I really enjoyed the people I worked with and made close friends with a lot of them — the drivers, the staff, the press, everyone. But the job took a lot of time, six days a week for me and seven for Jim, and I
wanted to spend more family time.”
Martin will remain in the GM position for the final races of the season, and will preside over the November 16 awards
banquet while Onweiler settles in.
“I look forward to working with Jeb during this transitional period and wish him and everyone associated with the
Champion Speedway the very best of luck in 2003 and beyond,” said Martin.
Personally, I want to thank Kris and Jim for their terrific work at Champion this year. I’ve enjoyed working with both of them, and I also look forward to working with this crazy man who’s determined to take Champion to new heights.
Roger Diez is the Nevada Appeal Betting Columnist.