Goodbye, Firebird Raceway — hello, Wild Horse Motorsports Park

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Firebird International Raceway in suburban Phoenix has long been a popular venue for a variety of motorsports events, particularly NHRA drag racing on its quartermile asphalt track, drag boat competition in a man-made lake on the property, plus two road courses and an off-road track.

But Firebird is no more — at least in name, according to the Arizona Republic.

Say goodbye to Firebird and hello to Wild Horse Motorsports Park, which will reopen under its new name for the Lucas Oil Drag Boat Series event Sept. 13-15.

After a 30-year run by well known motorsports promoter and now former track president Charlie Allen, whose lease agreement with the Gila River Indian Community, which owns the land that Firebird Raceway sits upon, expired and was not renewed, a new management team (Copper Train) Development Partners LLC) has signed an agreement to operate the expansive 458-acre facility along Interstate 10 just south of Phoenix.

As is often the case, with a new name comes change. Various capital improvements are likely for the aging facility that, the Republic reported: “Gila River Indian Community has a greater financial incentive to invest in improvements for both competitors and fans, and make the races more popular and successful.”

Copper Train managing partner Paul Clayton told the Republic, “Our job is to come in and create relationships with the community, sponsorships and all sorts of events. We want families to be able to enjoy the facility, with clean bathrooms, and improve the overall fan experience.”

Other likely improvements are a new timing and scoring system for the drag strip and replacing 700 grandstand seats that had previously been removed.

In addition, the NHRA and Gila River have agreed on a contract extension to continue the track’s hosting of the Arizona Nationals — which the now former Firebird Raceway has hosted since 1985 — for at least the next five years.

The Arizona Nationals are typically held in late February and retaining that event was the “Number 1” priority, NHRA President Tom Compton told the Republic.

“If we weren’t in Phoenix it would be a disaster,” Compton said. “It’s the sixth-largest market in the country and it is diverse. NHRA has an element of diversity (female and minority drivers) that is unmatched by any other motorsport in the country that I’m aware of. It reflects our fan base very well. … I think there’s a tremendous opportunity to take Wild Horse to a new level.”

Theriault clinches ARCA title before finale at Kansas

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) There is no long, convoluted story about how Austin Theriault came to Ken Schrader Racing, forging a team that so dominated the ARCA Series that it captured the title simply by showing up for the finale.

“We both wanted something to do,” the folksy Schrader said with a smile and shrug before Friday night’s race at Kansas Speedway. “He didn’t have a car to drive and I didn’t have a driver.”

So, they solved each other’s problem.

Theriault hopped into the seat and proceeded to win seven times over the first 19 races, building such a lead on his nearest challenger that he sewed up the title at Kentucky. And that made for a rather enjoyable weekend at Kansas, where all the pressure was off their team.

Along the way, Theriault became the first driver to win at a superspeedway, short track, dirt track and road event in the same season, and he swept the superspeedway and short-track challenges.

If there was something to win, he won it.

“I hoped we’d have a shot at it and it’s proved out this year that we’ve really exceeded anybody’s expectations,” Theriault said. “We had some things to work on early. We kind of dusted off a bit, went back to work. We had some time between Daytona and the mile-and-a-halfs that came up later in the season, and we realized where we were strong and where we had to work.

“But in the end it came back to pure dedication, I think,” he explained. “The amount of time it took behind the scenes to make this happen.”

The 23-year-old driver from Fort Kent, Maine, knows something about dedication. He appeared to be on racing’s fast track, scoring a Truck Series ride a few years ago for Brad Keselowski, when a terrifying crash at Las Vegas left him with a broken back and sitting on the sidelines.

The best ride he could find last year was in the K&N Pro Series.

It was at a trade show in Indianapolis last December that Theriault ran into Schrader, who was busy putting together a team for this season. They had dinner a couple nights later and, Schrader said, it was his wife Ann who came away impressed by the yes-sir, no-sir driver.

“My wife doesn’t go to all the races,” Schrader said. “After we talked she said, `I like that guy. How good is he?’ She doesn’t know. I knew he was racing well in Keselowski’s truck, had an unfortunate wreck, had to sit out a bit. I told her, `That’s somebody who could make us very happy next year.”‘

Theriault delivered on that promise.

They weren’t the only ones happy Friday, either. Zane Smith earned his second pole of the season, beating teammate Sheldon Creed to earn the top spot for the Kansas ARCA 150, while 20-year-old Natalie Decker announced a full-time ride with Venturini Motorsports next season.

“This is obviously a big step in my career,” said Decker, who made six starts as a rookie this season. “I’m confident and ready for this next move. After tonight my focus shifts to next season. We’ll be ready to go at Daytona.”