Legit Speedway Park back to good again
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July 1, 2015  |  by Ben Shelton, OneDirt.com

WEST PLAINS, Mo.—Everyone knows the old saying that “a picture is worth a thousand words.” While clearly this isn’t true for every photo, there are some that undeniably illicit countless thoughts, memories and feelings.

Sometimes you have to carefully study a photo to get a true feel for its full meaning. However, other times you instantly get transported down memory lane. For me, this was recently the case. A simple photo included with weekly results from a race track not only brightened my day, but it also simultaneously transported me back in time almost two decades.

Since the Gibson family relinquished ownership of the facility more than six years ago, the place has fallen on tough times. Under separate management groups the track struggled to stay afloat for the next four years. In 2014 it set dormant for pretty much the entire season. I, along with most other folks, felt like it would probably never see its doors open again.

Driving past the place on trips to various tracks, it absolutely broke my heart to see the place with weeds growing high and the gates boarded shut. After all, this facility was once the immaculately groomed and maintained showplace that tracks across the country measured themselves against. To see it abandoned seemed like a sin of the highest order.

For the 2015 season rumors began to swirl that the ole girl might be given life again. A group of investors were forming behind former dirt late model pilot Gary Stolba to reopen the facility. After seeing so many promising rumors of newfound life for the track proving to be empty promises, I didn’t put much stock into what I heard.

“I’ll believe it when I see it,” was my direct approach.

However, a late February phone call from Stolba confirmed the rumbling I had been hearing. He spoke with vigor and determination. His primary goal was to restore the facility to its glory days. As a resident of nearby Willow Springs, Mo., he knew exactly what the track meant to the community. He also fully understood the importance of moving forward with its storied legacy.

I’ll be honest. I absolutely loved every idea that Stolba presented to me on this phone call. Well, with one distinct exception.

He told me that he feared that the place had developed a questionable reputation in the community during its most recent years of operation. Because of this he wanted to reopen with a complete new start. As part of this start the name, West Plains Motor Speedway, would be retired. He intended to rebrand the facility, Legit Speedway Park, to serve notice to racers and fans that there would be an even playing field for all competitors in all divisions to accompany the operations of the new ownership group.

I won’t lie. I hated it instantly. I wanted the name West Plains Motor Speedway to continue to live eternally. It’s the name under which the facility flourished, and it’s the name that I will always call the place in conversation. However, I will admit after getting past my own selfish reasons for wanting the name to remain the same, I did come to understand what Stolba hoped to accomplish with the new name.

So the facility did, in fact, reopen in early May. Racers and fans quickly discovered that Stolba and his staff had been extremely busy. From a reshaped and graded surface to fresh paint to new amenities, the place just felt alive.

I’ll never forget a phone call I received from area racer Justin Asplin after his first trip to the facility this year.

He simply said, “Shelton you’ve got to come see this place. You just can’t imagine what Gary (Stolba) has done already and what he has planned. The place had a really big crowd too. It’s just incredible.”

Because of these efforts, dozens of businesses have already teamed with the track to provide sponsorships and overall support.

While special events like the Show-Me 100 drew thousands of fans from across the country to the facility, weekly attendance at the track has always been a battle. Even during the best of times it’s been hard to consistently get fans through the gates. The track is situated in an area where a majority of the population just doesn’t have a lot of disposable income. With this in mind, Stolba has made a concerted effort to offer extremely affordable fun for the family each and every week.

The results have been staggering so far, and this leads me to the very photo that inspired this article.

On Saturday, July 13, the track hosted a Fan Appreciation Night that included free admission and a lumberjack exhibition. A full program of weekly divisions were in action. At a track that in the past has done well to attract 300 to 500 fans through the gates for this same weekly show, a staggering 5,000 spectators flooded through the front gate.

Sure, some naysayers will say you gave them free admission, so of course there were a bunch of people in attendance. The reality, though, is that very few free nights at any track in the country, regardless of the market, can get even half of that number. This turnout was incredible and gave prospective fans a taste of what the place has to offer. I have zero doubt that the returns from the concession stand more than covered the losses of admission revenue on the front gate.

The picture of the massive crowd transported me back in time to the early days of the Show Me 100, when fans from across the nation jam-packed the bleachers to see action atop one of the best racing surfaces in the country. It truly made my heart smile to see this place that I loved so much packed to the rafters once again.

The staff of Legit Speedway Park are definitely not out of the woods on completing the restructuring of the foundation for the new track. Like many tracks that reopen, they will likely find their biggest challenges in their sophomore year. Everybody likes to get behind something, when it’s new, but maintaining support is the true challenge.

With that said though, I’m so very encouraged to see what Gary Stolba and his staff are doing at the place. They are using their heads, and they are busting their butts to make it a success. All that we ever seem to hear about these days are reasons why tracks can’t succeed. Here’s a great example of a track that is succeeding, and they are doing it with hard work.

So while I still may not be sold on the new name, I can’t deny the vision and the accomplishments made by everyone with Legit Speedway Park. They’ve done themselves proud, and I’m sure I’m not the only one, who is proud to see that 3/8-mile oval in West Plains, Mo., thriving once again.

The Legit Speedway Park features USRA B-Mods as part of their weekly racing program.

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