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Saturday, July 22, 2017

Manzanita Speedway: The Track That Action Built

For some reason, the Manzanita Speedway at Broadway Road and 35th Avenue in Phoenix is one of the best kept secrets in the Valley of the Sun. Unless a person is into auto racing, the facility is mostly off the radar for most folks when they are looking for something to do on a Saturday night.

Because of this fact, Hollywood Leary (yes that is his real name) has made it his mission to get the word out that a night at the races is not only a lot of fun, it is family friendly and reasonably priced.

“I have been personally coming here for 20 years, it befuddles me constantly. If you get 100 people together from any walk of life, they wouldn’t know what you are talking about. I’ve always been confused about how Arizona does not know about it, especially with the kind of fame it has,” he said.

Indeed, all the greats like A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, Gary Bettenhausen and Bill Cheesbourg have raced there and the speedway is known among those who know, “The track that action built.”
Still, he said, more people from back east know about it than the locals.

”I’ve had people in the neighborhood who drive by and wondered what was here. They didn’t know if it was a horse or dog track. We just need exposure, exposure, exposure,” he said. “That is exactly why I’m here. I have taken the initiative to tell Arizona about it.”

Wendy McDonald has been the announcer at Manzanita for the past 53 years. The speedway officially opened in 1951. It has a clay surface and was named the one of the top dirt tracks in the nation recently.
There are many reasons that someone should come out to the track and witness the races, but one of the main reasons, is that it is exciting, McDonald said.

“I’m not saying that it is for everyone, but I will guarantee they will not be bored,” he said. “Kids love racing. I don’t care if they are only 4 or 5, they just love racing.

He said once a person comes to the races two or three times they begin recognizing the drivers and picking their favorites.

“It can be habit forming,” McDonald said.

“When the race is over you can go down to the pits and talk to the drivers. You get to meet them,” he said.

Most good race fans don’t go to a race to see people get hurt. They don’t mind seeing a wreck as long as the guy gets out of the car and waves and it isn’t the speed. It’s the competition that is more exciting than a guy doing 115 miles an hour,” he said.

The racing season kicks off on March 7. Among the divisions racing include the popular Bombers, Modlites. ASCA Sprint, SHDMS Dirt Modified, SCRA Sports Modified, AMRA Midgets and a division for women, Lady Stocks. Between now and November, Leary said there will be 55 shows with eight or 10 different classes or two or three on any given night.

Leary said that these days everyone is talking about the economy, but if you go to a Suns game, with tickets, beers and hotdogs, the price adds up to $100 easily. It’s the same for the Diamondbacks or for a night out at the theater.

At Manzanita, a person can have all that for $30 or $40.

“It is the Valley’s number one value in family entertainment,” Leary said.

He said he is negotiating with a company to provide playground equipment for children and to upgrade the playground area.

The food is normal concession type, with hot dogs, hamburgers, nachos and the like, but the green chili burros are his favorite.

“I would go out of my way to have a green chili burro,” he said with a laugh.

General admission is $15. Kids are $7.50 and children under six are free. Racing is from 7 to 10:30 p.m. on Saturdays and a few Friday nights. All the seats have a good view of the track.

“I think the economy is going to help us. People are not going to stay home every Saturday night,” Leary said.

For more information, contact Manzanita Speedway at 602-276-9401 or www.manzanitaspeedway.us.

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