• June 7, 2020

Penwell Knights Raceway sees more than 7,000 people in return - Odessa American: Local News

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Penwell Knights Raceway sees more than 7,000 people in return

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    Discovery Channel's Street Outlaws star and Midland Native Cody Baker performs a burnout to warm his tires for a race in the Dirty South No Prep Series at Penwell Knights Raceway at Caprock Motorplex Saturday night in Penwell, Texas. Cody Baker would go on to win the final race of the big tire event and took home $10,000.

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Posted: Thursday, July 4, 2019 3:19 pm

Revving engines deafened eardrums, smoke from burnouts blanketed the air and cars filled the parking lot as several thousand people chiseled out an inch of space to see their favorite street racer.

The sights and sounds of Penwell Knights Raceway at Caprock Motorplex had returned.

Gary Gardenhire, the owner of Penwell Knights Raceway, said there were more than 7,000 paid attendance for the Dirty South No Prep Series on June 28 and 29.

"It was a huge blessing," Gardenhire said. "The last nine months have been difficult."

Those last nine months have been hard as Penwell Knights Raceway stayed vacant on Friday and Saturday nights after a lightning strike on Oct. 6, 2018. The lightning strike hit the main building and caused multiple fires in the seven-suite facility. The main building was boarded up and blocked so people weren’t able to stand or use the catwalk.

Gardenhire was forced to build a new four-suite building that will serve as a placeholder until a lawsuit with an insurance company is settled, which Gardenhire said is still continuing.

Penwell Knights Raceway had two soft openings prior to the Dirty South No Prep Series. The first of those soft openings was June 14. Gardenhire said there were 1,500 people and more than 200 cars during that event.

"It was very overwhelming," Gardenhire said. "We were ready. We were just surprised."

Two Big Tire racers that were glad to be back were Cody Baker and Jared Winger.

During Saturday’s Big Tire final, Baker and Winger went head-to-head for the $10,000 prize. Baker, a 34-year-old from Midland, picked up the win, but Winger didn’t go home empty-handed over the weekend. The 27-year-old from San Angelo won Friday’s prize of $5,000.

"I run all over the country and this is my home track," Baker said. "This is a huge turnout for the track. The track has had some bad luck recently. I'm glad to see it's a packed house out here. There are a ton of people. Hopefully, this will help (Penwell Knights) financially to get everything back on track and get it in good shape again."

Winger was pleased with how the weekend unfolded. Winger admitted he hadn’t made many passes this season, but the 27-year-old said he will start hitting it harder now.

"We weren't sure if we were going to take home that much money this weekend,” Winger said. “We got lucky and pulled some heavy hitters. We ended up with a win on Friday night."

Prior to the Dirty South No Prep Series at Penwell, Gardenhire had hope to open in April, but that date kept getting pushed back because of construction.

Gardenhire said he had about eight weeks to prepare for the Dirty South No Prep Series.

“I guaranteed that it would happen,” Gardenhire said.

With that guarantee, the racing community from the Permian Basin and across Texas responded with widespread support.

Ricky Holland, a 48-year-old from Arlington, was cheering from the VIP section with his 3-year-old daughter who was wearing a pair of red racing earmuffs. Holland works in the oilfield hauling frac sand. He said he has shared his affinity for racing with all four of his children.

"It lets me know that drag racing is still alive," Holland said. "Look around, the stands are full and the parking lot is full."

The racers also notice the large crowd.

"It's good having all of these people out here," Winger said. "It really helps the track out a lot. The track has been through a lot over the last couple of years. They've done really well. They always have a huge turnout on these no prep races."

Gardenhire said he will focus on a couple more events to close out the summer.

On July 12 and 13, there will be an International Hot Rod Association bracket race. The following weekend there will be a benefit race for Blaine Hale, who Gardenhire said had a major heart attack and will need heart surgery soon. Gardenhire also alluded to a huge street race the track is preparing for in August, but didn’t give any specific details.

Holland said he hopes with the track reopening racers in the Permian Basin will have an outlet.

"It lets the young kids know they can still enjoy the sport without putting innocent lives in danger," Holland said. "I want them to come out to the track and do it. I don't want them in the neighborhood streets, have someone run a red light and kill a family."

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