By Craig Day, The News On 6
MUSKOGEE, OK -- Racing is returning to an historic venue in Muskogee. After a seven year absence, the 100-year tradition of racing at the Muskogee County Fairgrounds is now back on track and ready to roll.
For decades, the track has attracted big names in racing like A.J. Foyt, Mark Martin and Rusty Wallace.
Now it's hoped Thunderbird Speedway will attract current big names in dirt racing and race fans to Muskogee.
For a number of years, it was something you didn't see or hear at Thunderbird Speedway in Muskogee. Some thought racing might never return to the Fairgrounds. But now, it's back, and many fans couldn't be happier.
"Kind of like going to a carnival as a little kid, and this is my carnival right here," said Dennis Slader, Thunderbird Speedway.
It started as a horse track in 1910, and later in the 1950's, auto racing.
"This is part of Muskogee Oklahoma right here," Stanley Slader said.
But time had taken a toll on the grandstands, which were condemned by the city in 2003. So the track sat empty, unused.
"When it shut down, it was hard for a lot of people," Dennis said.
Including the Slader family. So they leased the track, brought in new bleachers, cleaned things up, and brought racing back.
"This has been a dream of mine for 30 years," Stanley Slader said.
"It's probably one of the biggest things, other than the birth of my kids, that I've been a part of," Dennis said.
Thirty dates are set this season, which runs through October.
"The fans. I just like to see them have a good time," Stanley said.
Those fans say not only will it bring excitement; the track will also draw visitors to Muskogee.
"They've got to stay somewhere and that means they're going to pack your hotels, they're going to eat at your restaurants and they're going to shop at your malls," said Devin Beach. "And that's all city sales tax."
Since Thunderbird Speedway is one of only a handful of half mile dirt tracks nationwide, the Sladers expect to draw people from all over.
But, for now, they're just excited that racing has returned and fans can experience the fun once again.
"I just can't wait on Saturday nights to get here," Stanley said.
The races at Thunderbird Speedway are set for each Saturday night beginning at 7:30.