RACE: Ray Irwin, new owner Heartland Park

For many months, there have been a myriad of unanswered questions about the future of Heartland Park Topeka (HPT), located in Topeka, Kan. On April 3, the most important of those questions were answered in a news conference officially announcing...

For many months, there have been a myriad of unanswered questions about the future of Heartland Park Topeka (HPT), located in Topeka, Kan. On April 3, the most important of those questions were answered in a news conference officially announcing the new owner of HPT -- Raymond Irwin.

After introductory remarks from the various dignitaries present, Irwin received a standing ovation from an overflow crowd when he took the podium. He seemed sincerely humbled by this outpouring of support and said, "Wow! What do I say after that?"

Raymond Irwin brings a varied background and understanding to HPT, which should be good for the track, the community and the people involved in making it all happen.

For the road racing community, he's a driver and the owner of Blackhawk Farms, a multi-use road racing facility in suburban Chicago. Of my road racing friends who have had contact with Irwin or Blackhawk Farms, they have nothing but praise for him.

Irwin knows that NHRA is the bread-and-butter for HPT. That's why everything will be in place for the Memorial Day weekend NHRA O'Reilly Auto Parts Summer Nationals, May 22-25.

Dirt tracks are extremely popular here in the Midwest and Irwin feels the HPT dirt track is a first-class facility with tremendous potential; however, it's just a bit more than he and his staff can handle right now. But in understanding that potential, he has been in negotiations with several entities about the prospect of a third-party lease to operate the track this season.

During his comments, Irwin affectionately referred to Topeka (population about 120,000) as a "city that reacts like a small town." He went on to explain how friendly everyone has been to him and his wife, Nancy, welcoming them to Topeka. A small-town atmosphere that is often missing from cities. That could very well account for why Raymond and Nancy wanted to move to Topeka and not just be an absentee owner.

I think Irwin feels this way because he has come in contact with so many people who understand the importance of HPT in it's entirety to the racing community and to the City of Topeka. HPT boosts of one of the fastest drag strips on the NHRA circuit. The road course can be configured for distances of 1.8, 2.1, 2.2 or 2.5 miles. It has hosted IMSA, Trans-Am, ASA, ARCA, NASCAR Craftsman Trucks and Winston West, along with SCCA club racing. The World of Outlaws have entertained thousands on both a temporary dirt track across the drag strip and on the permanent facility.

I personally believe Irwin has happened upon a potential gold mind in HPT and in Topeka. He has the knowledge, experience and understanding to turn it around and move forward. Previous owners and managers had little, if any, motorsports background and HPT seemed to be just a tax write-off for them. Irwin had the backing and support of key players in the community - banks, Topeka Convention and Visitors Bureau, Topeka Chamber of Commerce, NHRA, SCCA and the City of Topeka. And Irwin has the necessary infrastructure of dedicated racers and workers - road course, drag strip, dirt track - to return HPT to its glory days.

Throughout his remarks, Irwin seemed to focus on a single theme of what's good for HPT will be good for Topeka, too. It's the synergistic situation he strives for with HPT. From my perspective, I feel good about Irwin and what he brings to the table. He appears honest and humble, enthusiastic and passionate, hard working and dedicated, determined to make HPT a success for the racers and for the community.

After all, it's like what Irwin told us his wife once said ... racing is not a hobby, but a lifestyle.

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Series Automotive , NHRA , SCCA