Perris Auto Speedway promoter Don Kazarian talks of 2020 COVID disappointment and the future
Since the Covid crisis started wreaking havoc with racing schedules around the country eight months ago, a lot has been said about drivers and fans. But, what about promoters? Don Kazarian, who with his family-built Perris Auto Speedway in 1996 and who has remained the promoter to this day, sat down with Scott Daloisio for an interview last week. The interview covers how the track has been affected by Covid, what has it done to make things safer for everyone, and what does the future look like moving forward. The interview also covers a new sprint car class the track is starting, extra purse money for the PASSCAR and IMCA drivers and the future of the USAC/CRA Series.
Daloisio: Let’s cut to the chase. How disappointing and frustrating has it been losing all but one event of the 2020 season at Perris Auto Speedway?
Kazarian: Well, considering it was our 25th anniversary season and we had a lot of neat things planned, it is horribly disappointing. It is not devastating. I mean, we are going to survive. It has been a long road since March 7th at our last event (the only event The PAS got in during 2020).
Daloisio: You said you had a lot of things planned for the 25th season. We only got one event in. So, will 2021 be the 25th anniversary season?
Kazarian: Yes! Even though it will be our 26th season there, it will be our 25th anniversary season. We can’t consider this as a season at all. We had some fan appreciation nights ready to go. We had purses that were going to be extremely large in all of our PASSCAR/IMCA divisions. We are going to roll all of that over to 2021.
Daloisio: Go back to the very first time you heard of Covid. Did you think it could affect the track?
Kazarian: I first heard about it, about mid-February that they had this issue in China. At that point, I did not think it would affect us. The more I read about it on the Internet, read about it anywhere else, or heard about the news reports on tv, I started to become concerned that it could affect us. I told you in the press box at our first event on March 7th that I thought we were going to get shut down the next week. You thought I was crazy. Now here it is in the third week of October and we are experiencing a third peak. I originally thought we would be closed two or three weeks or maybe a month at the most. But I never envisioned we would be closed the entire year.
Daloisio: Thinking we were only going to be down for a month at most, you went ahead and made some modifications around the facility to protect fans’ health. What are some of them?
Kazarian: We purchased all automatic flush valves for all of the restrooms. We have not installed them all yet. We purchased touchless faucets for all of the sinks in the facility. I have to be honest with you, we have not installed all of them yet. So, they are tucked away, but all will be installed when we can race again. We paid probably 300% over retail because you could not get them when Covid first hit. We designed social distancing for the entire facility which was going to require us to paint X’s all over the grandstands, concession areas, and restrooms. Even with the early postponements, I was convinced we were hopefully going to be okay to race right after the fourth of July. I had a schedule prepared that was to begin July 12th and ran until the middle of December to get all of the races in. That came and went. We have been open since May 2nd for private practices. Initially, we had quite a few private practices, but as the year has gone by, they have gone down in numbers.
Daloisio: We are still open for practice and will be all winter, correct?
Kazarian: Oh yeah, we are still open for practice. There have only been two or three weekends when we have not had at least one round. When we first started having practices again, it was not uncommon to have five rentals over Saturday and Sunday. Like I said, they have slowed down quite a bit, but I think they will pick back up when we get to the beginning of next year.
Daloisio: How often do you hear from fans asking what is going on?
Kazarian: We have not spent a lot of time in the office as there is really not a whole lot to do. The facility is being maintained. Charlie (marketing manager Charlie Watson) probably gets more phone calls than anyone else from the fans. They are wondering how we are doing and are we going to get through this mess. It is clear we are going to get through this mess. We did get help from the first stimulus act. That was the “Cares Act.” So, we have been able to keep the facility up and running and keep our bills to a minimum. There is still a huge, fixed cost to the facility just sitting there on a monthly basis. As of right now, we are able to cover those costs.
Daloisio: Does insurance help cover any of that?
Kazarian: No. I actually called our insurance company before we got shut down. I think it was the Monday after our first event and I said, “Hey, if we get shut down, do I have coverage?” And, she goes, “no, you did not buy pandemic insurance.” I also asked if there was pandemic insurance and she said, “yeah, there used to be, but not anymore.” We buy terrorism insurance every year, but I had never heard of pandemic insurance. That market was actually shut down on, I think, March 6th. So, no, we do not have insurance coverage for this.
Daloisio: Two weeks from now the 25th Oval Nationals should be taking place. That is like your pride and joy as you have developed it into the best non-wing sprint car race in the nation. How much does it hurt you personally to have that taken away this year?
Kazarian: It is a huge personal loss. That was a tough pill to swallow. USAC called me a couple of times to ask me what I thought way back in May. I told them it was to early to make a decision. We talked in July, and it finally got to August and September and there was no clear-cut chance to host the event. It had gotten to the point where teams and fans were having to make hotel reservations and more. When we finally made that decision, it really hit home. You have seen it. You and I text each other when we have events coming up and it is like, yeah, take them down. Again, starting back in March, I would have never thought we would be in this position.
Daloisio: Traditionally over the last decade or so, The PAS season opener has been the first Saturday in March. That is just a little over four months away. How confident are you that the 2021 season will begin in early March as usual?
Kazarian: I did talk to USAC last week and they asked me if I had my 2021 schedule done. My first comment was, “when do you think we can start?” We went back and forth. After talking about all of the issues we finally said we have to post a schedule that represents that we are back to normal. We don’t know when that is going to happen. So, we will be posting our 2021 schedule in the next couple weeks that is going to be very similar to our schedules in the past. People (drivers, fans, officials, sponsors) need to plan and know. I sincerely hope that in February or March we are not in the position that we are currently sitting in now. But I think a lot of things are going to have to happen for us to be open with some capacity of fans. Like I have told you all along, I cannot come up with a business model to make the facility operate without fans in the stands. Guys have tried to do it and some guys did well with a few pay per views once some of the tracks had reopened. It kills me to see the tracks in Indiana. Those promoters are getting record crowds. And we are out here under a whole different set of rules. It is very difficult to swallow.
Daloisio: When you are allowed to open the gates again, do you anticipate the crowds to come in, in large numbers?
Kazarian: I certainly hope so. It is a wildcard. It depends on where we are in the pandemic. Will there be a vaccine? If the level of infected people is cut way down and the deaths are down to about zero. People are going to have to make a choice. I think our fans will support the facility. I do not know how many fans have been impacted by this virus. My oldest brother spent eight days in the hospital in Oklahoma. His cancer doctor told him when this virus hit that if he caught it, he had probably a 90% chance of dying based on the damage to his lungs from the cancer. Thank God he made it through. He is home still recovering. There are just so many variables. We are going to be designated by Riverside County health. Hopefully, they are going to maybe jump out of the state guidelines. I think the governor just released some guidelines today or yesterday (this interview was conducted on October 21st). I have not seen the color we need to get too that allows stadiums to reopen with the fans. I heard some reports on the news this morning, but I have kind of had a busy day today and have not had enough time to research that out. To answer your previous question, I would say we have a 50-50 shot at opening in March.
Daloisio: Little change of direction here for the next few questions. You already mentioned this earlier, but just to clarify. You had an anonymous person come in last offseason who put a lot of money up for the PASSCAR and IMCA purses for 2020. Obviously, we never got one race in. Is that money rolling over into 2021?
Kazarian: Yes, absolutely. That is still going to happen!
Daloisio: On to sprint cars for a moment. You are introducing a new class in 2021. What is it and when can people see the rules?
Kazarian: With the help of Cory Kruseman, it has been almost a year and a half of development. It is a crate engine that is carbureted and runs on methanol. We were working with one engine manufacturer and the third time we were testing the car we had an engine failure. So, Cory and I put our heads together. We have not finalized all of the details yet, but Cory will end up being the dealership that will supply all of the engines. You look at the success of the GM602 Sprint Car Crate Motor that has been running now for three years. It has mainly been running on the east coast and a little bit in the Midwest. It has a tremendous record on it. They have not had any engine failures. They have three ways you can purchase the engine. You can buy the short block and bolt everything else on. Or you can take the medium level and basically put your own carburetor on it and a couple of other items. Or you buy it straight complete from the carburetor down to the headers. But, about the most you are going to spend is $8,600.00. This engine will probably last you two to three years before you have to do some minor maintenance. It is going to appeal to younger kids to get into it (sprint car racing). We will have an age limit of 14-years-old to get into this class. Jimmy Naylor is going to run the class at Ventura as well. Originally, we were in talks to have Barona run the class and we were going to have three tracks and one overall points champion at the end of the year. Those talks (with Barona) have broken down a little bit, but they will heat up again within the next couple of weeks. I would expect to have rules out hopefully by the end of this month (October).
Daloisio: To end a rumor that has been floating around, this class is not going to replace 410 Sprint Car racing, correct?
Kazarian: Absolutely not. No! This is a series that will be designed to hopefully get driver development and younger kids involved. And, hopefully to develop new car owners. And hopefully some of those owners will step up to the USAC/CRA level. It does not take a genius to see what is going on with CRA. We have not had a lot of new car owners in the last five years. And, we have lost car owners. My plan is to basically develop new car owners to keep the series thriving and hopefully get back to the levels where we saw 40 or 45 CRA cars a night.
Daloisio: And, just to expand on the last question. A press release came out a few weeks ago regarding officials changing positions in the USAC West Coast Sprint Cars and USAC Western Midgets. There was no mention of USAC/CRA in the release and people started jumping to conclusions and questioned the future of that series. Will USAC/CRA still be the main sprint car sanctioning body at The PAS?
Kazarian: Yes. I talked to Chris (Kearns) the day after that release came out. He was actually the one that requested my schedule as he has done the scheduling (USAC on the west coast) the last five or seven years. He asks for my dates first and then goes to all of the other promoters to fill in the other dates. He has done a great job to minimize nights that we have midgets running somewhere and CRA or the 360s (USAC West Coast Series) running somewhere else. Chris is still involved. He is actually moving out of the Arizona area down the road. Bottom line, CRA is not going anywhere, period!
Promoter Don Kazarian and his entire staff urge everyone to do all they can to stay safe and healthy. They look forward to seeing all the fans back at the track as soon as it is possible.
Fans can stay up to date on track and driver news on The PAS social media efforts at the links below.
Twitter: Perris Auto Speedway on Twitter.
Perris Auto Speedway is conveniently located on the SoCal Fair and Event Center (home of October’s Southern California Fair), approximately one-hour east of Los Angeles and one-hour North of San Diego. To get to the track, take the 215 freeway, on the Ramona Expressway and go three miles east to the fairgrounds. For directions on MapQuest, the address to enter is: 18700 Lake Perris Drive and the zip code is 92571.
Perris Auto Speedway wants to thank its corporate partners for the 2019 season. Ahern Equipment Rentals, All Coast Construction, Battery Systems, Budweiser, Bud’s Tire Pro, Chris’ Hauling, City of Perris, Communication Innovations, Daytona Boat & RV Storage, Ed Moore Bullet Proof Driveshaft, Flowdynamics, HD Industries, Hoosier Tires, Inland Rigging, Living Water’s Hospice, LKQ Pick Your Part, Luke’s Transmission, Moose Racing, Pepsi-Cola, Pole Position, PrintItNow.com, Rainbow Bolt & Supply, Rugged Radios, Shaver Specialties, Square H, Sunoco Race Fuels, Trench Shoring, Upland Rock, Varner Construction and Vista Paint.
DVD’s of all the PASSCAR/IMCA racing and Nights of Destruction at The PAS are available from Fourvideos. For more information call (714) 225-9500.
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