Sunset Speedway, Open Wheel Frenzy – Banks

Well, I’ll be honest this is another one of those “I always thought I’d do it before now” stories.  I’ve lived in the greater Portland area since nineteen ninety-nine and there were times when I could actually hear the engines of the cars and vehicles at the track in Banks.  I thought enough is enough and decided to take a trip there and watch the races.  As near as I can tell there are quite a few different events at the track, some of my friends talk about times when they’ve visited the track and there have been monster-truck rallies (no idea what exactly that means, but now I really want to see a monster truck rally!!) demolition derbies, and regular cars driving around the track.  It’s easy to find, and despite being to Banks quite a few times and knowing where the track is I’d never actually looked in that direction, so this would be a very interesting experience.

I decided the park the car (the 300 – sorry, the Bronco broke it’s main drive shaft on the way to work one day this week – more on that later!!) which fortunately was as far away from the stands and as near to the road as I could – my reasoning being that when folks leave there is a zillion car queue to get out and if I leave at the same time I’ll be one of the folks walking a longer ways to my vehicle, but waiting less – we’ll see how that rationale works!  There is plenty of parking and despite arriving a bit after the gates opened at 4pm I was just in time for the qualifying heats and there were plenty of spots park at.

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The walk was pleasant, I’d misjudged the heat I guess and it was mostly tolerable – the only thing is that in the evening the sun can be quite fierce and having to walk east to west means the sun is directly in my eyes – something to be aware of!  The first thing I saw was a pay booth and nice sign announcing I’d arrived at the Sunset Speedway.  The price is quite reasonable as far as I’m concerned – its about the same price as a couple of movie tickets before the evening matinees, or about thirteen dollars for an adult.  There is also “skybox” seating that can be had for about twenty-five dollars, which I realized later was a fantastic deal.  One thing to be aware of – and upon reflection it seems perfectly reasonable but at the time I was a little annoyed, but when you get your hand stamped on the way in they will make you dump out any liquids you have aside from sealed bottles of water.  I had some water in a reusable container and they made me dump it out, said “you might have vodka in there!”  I guess that is reasonable but like I said, at the time I was a little annoyed.  Just sharing so you don’t make my mistake.

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Just inside the gates was also a fantastic display of die-cast metal cars, with the biggest variety of cars I’d ever seen before.  There was all manner of open wheel giant-wing deigns there and I’m certain those particular ones would normally be quite difficult to find.  I thought it was a nice way for kids and parents to celebrate their enthusiasm for the races by getting a nice durable souvenir – most souvenirs from places like this tend to be throw-away types and this was a great idea.

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Once into the proper spot I noticed there were several vendors – some selling hamburgers, cheeseburgers, etc.  Others selling other things (beer!) and more.  The prices were a bit steep, but that’s to be expected, I’d rather the entry price be lower and the vendor prices be higher – that way I can decide if I want to eat there or not.  In this case I’d eaten recently so only needed to replenish my water.  Luckily the water was pretty reasonable and refreshed I made my way to the far end (where I wouldn’t be looking into the sun during the races).

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I’d arrived early enough to be able to see the qualifying races and was also lucky enough to be able to find a spot in the shade near the far western end of the track – it was a great spot and I noticed there was also a family just in front of my who had brought their own chairs – something I’ll need to keep in mind of the next time I visit!

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The qualifying laps were starting and I was immediately drawn to the action – me being a former gearhead I loved the sound and everything about the cars – next time I promised myself I’ll get a pit pass and arrive early to wander among the cars before the races.  I was able to get some fantastic video and promise I won’t show all of the clips I got but I was pretty happy to be watching and able to share my experiences with you all!

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The action was fantastic – there seemed to be at least three of four different types of cars there, some with giant wings on the top, others that sounded much more powerful and still others that sounded like they had motorcycle engines in them and ran at six hundred cc’s.  When the drivers approached the corners the best ones seemed like they just turned their wheels and hammered the gas – drifting throughout the corners, spraying dirt everywhere!

The qualifying laps over the real racing started – it turns out that the qualifying stuff was just to determine who gets “pole position” which can mean a big difference, but nobody wants to wreck their cars in the qualifying phase, so the real races were much more intense with drivers fighting over position and there being many more cars on the track at the same time.

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Now due to the nature of racing and the cars themselves and the speeds, etc, there are sometimes accidents and some times folks have problems on the track.  I’ll admit, one of the most interesting times at the track are during the mishaps – now don’t get me wrong here, I never want anyone to get injured – but I will admit to enjoying the drama that a crash (or even a spin out) causes, that’s why after all we all love the crash derbies, right??!  One early issue was a driver and other getting their wheels attached or somehow interfering with each other, and both ended up just off the track.  I’ll have to say the crews who responded to these types of issues were fantastic – super fast and very professional – they would immediately slow the race down (yellow flag) and actually park their big emergency truck in front of the accident location, to prevent any of the drivers from accidentally injuring someone even more.

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At some point there was a break in the action and I decided I needed more water and wanted to find a different vantage point.  I was sitting pretty close to the action but not close enough!!  While moving I also spotted the skybox seating – which seemed like a fantastic vantage point for watching the races, and I promised myself I’d try that at least once.

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This new spot I’d found was near turn one and I found myself sitting much closer to the action.  There are also very nice tall metal stands/bleachers here and it was very well attended without being overcrowded.  The smartest folks brought fancy chairs with backs that attached to the bleachers – pretty clever!!

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One fellow I thought I’d point out was this stout dude who was on this large quad-type vehicle – with emergency flashing lights to activate when needed.  He spent quite a bit of the time in the center of the track just watching to make sure everything was going alright – he was almost always the first person on the spot when there was an issue with a racer – crash, rolled over, and so on.  I thought it was pretty cool that he was so professional and concerned about the participants in the events.

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Once I’d moved and the races started again I realized this spot was a premium spot – the action was much closer than it was before and the cars seemed to be just flying along the track!!  One problem that I didn’t realize at the time, but definitely noticed later was that this close and near to a turn meant I was in the dirt blast zone and boy did I ever get blasted by the dirt.  When I got home I had dirt and dust in my ears and nose!

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One thing to be aware of that I didn’t realize until much later in the evening is that there is a nice display that shows the laps completed and which cars are in which place (or at least the top four).  While I was watching the races I was able to capture the very end of a small crash and you can see the guy on the quad zooming over to assist the driver – even though there wasn’t any damage and his car just turned over a bit and righted itself almost immediately.  I did have an opportunity to look at the cage surrounding the drivers and it seems very safe, the drivers all wear flame retardant suits with helmets and gloves – everything seems to be done very safely.

Something else I noticed is that when I was recording slow motion videos is that the large lights in the middle of the track cause videos to strobe, which is a fantastic effect especially to illustrate the quickness of the drivers and their vehicles.

At one time there was an incident that was serious enough (though the driver wasn’t hurt) to warrant a stop of the race, and all of the drivers stopped their vehicles where they were at.  Luckily I was in the same spot across from where the duck car was – this was a highlight of the event for me!!!  There was also another car that was parked very close and allowed some very close viewing – something I was also grateful for.  These vehicles look tough!!

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There were other events and I was super surprised that many of the attendees left before the final event.  It was odd because the number of crashes and incidents that happened required the yellow frag (caution) to be out in several races like every other lap.  One other visitor tole me he had never seen so many wrecks and crashes.  The final event was very good, but due to the time constraints the racing stopped at almost exactly eleven o’clock – I’m guessing there might be some kind of city ordinance prohibiting too much noise after that time.  So the event was cut short from fifty laps to forty-five then to forty due to the number of incidents.  However they finally finished and I was surprised how much time had passed and how much fun I had.  It was just fantastic!

Pro Tips on things to bring:

  • Sunglasses
  • Hat – to keep dirt out of hair
  • Earplugs – things can get loud
  • Folding chair – if you’re not going to sit not he bleachers.  PS, Don’t they are uncomfortable – after several hours.
  • Bottled water – you will have to dump out any liquid that isn’t unopened bottled water

Overall the open-class races at the sunset speedway were fantastic.  I can’t recommend them enough.  Though there were a few surprises they didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the event at all and that – to me – is deserving of five big Heywillamettes.  It’s very kid friendly, there are snacks around, and it’s a much better way to spend a Saturday night (in my opinion) than at the movies or at home.  If you are near Banks on Saturdays during the spring and summer there are likely to be events at the Sunset Speedway – I’m sure you’ll enjoy them.

5-HeyWillamettes

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