Loren Sheffield takes his car through its paces during Friday's practice at Tucson Speedway, formerly known as Tucson Raceway Park.


In Brandon Schilling's eyes, Tucson hasn't embraced auto racing the way it should.

That could change.

After some renovations, Tucson Speedway opened in April for the first of its six spring races. While the attendance has grown with each race, the driver still thinks it can be better.

"To be honest," Schilling said, "I think a lot of people are standing in the corner of their garage with their arms crossed, waiting to see if it really lasts here for a long period of time, considering all the problems the track had in the past."

Tonight, Tucson Speedway will host its last race of the spring - the inaugural Rick Sipes Memorial Race, which honors Sipes, a popular local racer, who died two years ago.

Keith Ames, Tucson Speedway's operations manager, is a bit more optimistic about the track's future in the Old Pueblo. He anticipates there will be "a couple thousand people here" for tonight's race.

"We're seeing more and more race cars coming out," Ames said. "I'm excited because as this bit of the season ends we have many, many cars being built, which tells me that the racers that are in the community like what they see that's going on here at the track now.

"They like the way the races are being handled, they like the way the rules are being enforced, they like the way the staff is treating them, and we're real excited too because the fans, they're just saying nothing but good things."

Here are a couple of reasons to take in tonight's race, which will begin at 7.

Gates open at 5.

A good, family time

If you're looking for a fun Saturday night with the family, Tucson Speedway is a nice option.

"When the folks begin arriving at 5 o'clock," Ames said, "we have a fire truck called 'Big Red' waiting."

Big Red was converted so there is bench seating that families can get taken on a ride through the pit area.

At 6 p.m., fans are permitted to go down from the grandstand onto the racing surface to interact with the drivers, crews and their cars.

"We let the kids get in and out of the cars," Schilling said. "I enjoy it, I have three girls, my kids are always climbing in and out of my race car, and they love it. So when we do it with other kids they enjoy it, too, because it's more than just seeing us race, but it's also being a part of it."

Plus, there is wide variety of food (Sonoran hot dogs, for one), beverages and beer available at concessions.

A fun, final race

The memorial race is the final of six races since April, and will be the last one until September.

"It's getting to that time of the year where it just gets too hot," Ames said.

So, this is your last chance to see an auto race in Tucson for a couple of months.

There will be six types of racing: late models, sportsman, start stocks, x-mods, mini stocks and hornets.

But, above all else, the atmosphere at the race might be its biggest appeal.

"The atmosphere, it's hard for me to describe," Schilling said. "Everyone that is going is having a good time. There's great racing and great people to go out there and watch."


• What: Rick Sipes Memorial Race

• Where: Tucson Speedway, 11955 S. Harrison Road, Vail

• When: 7 p.m. (gates open at 5 p.m.)

Contact reporter Zack Rosenblatt at zrosenblatt@azstarnet.com or 573-4145. On Twitter @zackblatt