FORT WAYNE – They had been hoping for a big night at Baer Field Speedway on Saturday, even after the 91 mph winds the previous day had wreaked havoc on the racetrack.
Billboards had been eradicated. The roof over the restrooms had been torn up and almost out. A ticket-sales building had been overturned.
Despite all that, those who run the racetrack had gotten things in shape enough to race, until word came that power wouldnt be restored until Monday.
So there was no racing, no big night at Baer Field. Not so terrible, though, because Baer Field has had a resurgence this year.
Bob Koorsen, the track announcer and promotions director, said the track has averaged more than 1,000 fans this year, an improvement from the tumultuous 2011. On some nights, crowds have surpassed 2,500 fans.
Weve been having a really good season, Koorsen said. The attendances this season have been better than last year. We have had a lot of guys in the pits, despite whats going on in the economy. We have guys who maybe cant run each week, they have to pick and choose a little more when they race, but there are more newer drivers coming out in the economy divisions.
Although this year has been marked by extreme heat and little rain, it was the opposite in the rain-drenched summer of 2011.
Baer Fields area was often spared the rain on race nights, but people assumed that races had been canceled and didnt show up.
Of course, you still had to pay everybody, Koorsen said. It makes it hard. It was a trying year. But in the second half, things came alive.
Baer Field, an institution for 49 years, has been trying to bring in new fans – and they can go to the races next Saturday, when most of the regular activities are expected to be up and running again.
Weve been able to get some things in motion and remind people that were here, Koorsen said.
There are so many people in this town who arent sure what Baer Field is. It used to be youd say Baer Field and everyone knew. But there are a lot of new people to Fort Wayne and they say, Theres a racetrack in Fort Wayne? We are trying to get back into the community.
Koorsen used his Saturday night off to take in the scene at Angola Motor Speedway, which reopened under new ownership. The folks from Baer Field dont really view Angola as a rival.
We dont look at Angola as competition, Koorsen said. We have so many other things in Fort Wayne on Saturday nights to worry about, and then theres just the distance between the tracks. We love for (fans) to go up there as opposed to seeing them do something else (other than auto racing). Drivers bounce around. Each track has their core group of drivers. We wish them all the success and hope they have a successful rest of the year.
Besides, as Koorsen sees it, there are so many tracks going under across the nation, everyone needs to work together to keep the grass-roots level of the sport going.
For us and Angola to try to fight for the swing fans, its not good for business for either one, he said, and its not proactive for growing the sport.