Ten Years Ago, Tri-City Raceway Shut Down – A Look Back (PICTURES)
Although a tiny handful of races were held here and there through 2005, for all intents and purposes, 2003 was the last full season of stock car racing action at the fastest half-mile west of the Mississippi. We take a brief look back with the help of a very dedicated man and a Facebook page. (All photos, unless otherwise noted, courtesy of Mitch Slagle).
For thousands of Mid-Columbians, Tri-City Raceway was the Saturday night stomping grounds to watch drivers of all ages race around the "Treacherous Tri-Oval" that not only produced many memorable moments, but also produced a number of drivers who we watch on TV Saturdays and Sundays - yesterday and today.
First opened in late 1968, and a first full season in 1969, TCR is located on a large parcel of land, about a mile outside of West Richland on Highway 224. Through the decades probably thousands of competitors whizzed through the "dog-leg" and stared down the hairy west turn - which when you were on the track, almost looked like a backwards "L" as you approached it. You would be staring at the grandstands as you approached.
Some of the famous names who raced there include: Chad Little of Spokane, who in the early to mid 90's drove the #97 John Deere car for Roush Racing; Indy 500 racer Davey Hamilton (raced a modified), Derrike Cope, who won the 1990 Daytona 500; Mike Bliss of Milwaukee, OR (modified) who went on to the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series title in 2002 and is still running the Nationwide Series and has run in Cup; Damon Lusk of Kennewick (late model) who ran some Busch Series races and 3 years in the ARCA series from 2001-2004, and also ran some Craftsman Truck Series races, finishing 11th at Texas Motor Speedway in 2001.
But probably the most famous TCR Alumni is Greg Biffle from Vancouver, WA. He won the 1995-1996 TCR Late Model Championship, then less than two years later, attracted the attention of racing giant Jack Roush. Roush let him have a tryout, and as they say, the rest is history. The "Biff" as many knew him, won a Truck Series and Busch Series Championship, and has piled up 19 career Winston and Sprint Cup wins. Biffle used to race at Portland Raceway on Fridays, then truck up to TCR on Saturdays. Besides being an amazing driver, he was was one of the few who actually built cars and engines, from the time he was a teenager.
He still maintains some ties to the Northwest, and attempted to buy TCR in the mid- 2000's when former owner Paul Alderman put it up for sale. Unfortunately, this very controversial situation ended badly for racers, with Biffle's offer being rejected, and the Port of Kennewick now owns it.
Today, the grandstands and most of the infrastructure are gone. It's occasionally used for motocross racers who driver between cones, but it's a sad shadow of it's former glory. TCR was considered the second-fastest half-mile track in America, 2nd. only to Bristol Motor Speedway in Tennessee. A West Richland police radar gun once clocked a sprint car at 160 miles per hour through the backstretch, known as "the dog-leg" for it's boomerang-like shape. The track hosted virtually every type of car, from entry-level pure stocks, to mini and street stocks, open-wheel modified and World of Outlaws type sprint cars. It also regularly hosted the old NASCAR Northwest Tour, the cars that are virtually identical to today's Cup Cars on TV.
I spent many years up in the rickety announcer's stand, many of it with fellow radio announcer Greg Allen. It was a blast, and for three years, my wife drove a car that we spent many hours slaving away on. I even got a chance to drive a race or two.
A recent picture posted in the Tri City Raceway Facebook page got me thinking about the track, and how it's been ten years since a full season. Thanks to the efforts and incredible dedication of racer Mitch Slagle (who was a part of TCR), thousands of old photographs have been compiled and shared on this page. If you're a former fan, driver, or enthusiast, this Facebook page will be a walk down memory lane.
If you've never experienced TCR, take a look at the photos, and imagine what a fun and vibrant place it was virtually every weekend from April through September. Here are just a handful of photos from the thousands, and yes, including one of our #13 car being destroyed by hydro driver Mark Evans during an invitational race in the late 1990s. All the Columbia Cup drivers came out and "guest drove" pure stocks in a celebrity race....with "mixed results!" But like many before us, and after, we kept on going and somehow built a new car in one week.
Those were the days...! Check out these remarkable photos, some as far back as 1974. The 16 car is Greg Biffle, the old black-and-white is Suzanne Clawson-Gagner with a July 1974 trophy win; The #3 is a late model that's seen better days. And the #52 is a great pre-race shot of Mike Zamora getting focused before leaving the staging area for a race. The very first photo is how it looks today. A recent picture showing little is left except the track...you can see the foundations of what used to be the grandstands. And if you listen closely, you can hear: "Drivers! Start your engines...!"