Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Rio Vistan takes over sprint car series, moves office to Solano County

By Susan Winlow | Daily Republic | December 13, 2010 18:49


Cars%20copy.jpgDan Simpson, right, recently acquired the Golden State King of the West Sprint Car series and has relocated it to Rio Vista. Photo by Mike Greener

RIO VISTA - Deep in the Montezuma Hills -- surrounded by Percheron horses and wind turbines -- is a dirt race car track on a ranch owned by Dan Simpson.

It was originally built so Simpson, 67, and his daughter Danielle Simpson, 28, could get in some practice, first for the 360 sprint cars they raced a few years ago and then the more powerful 410s in the 25-year-old Golden State Challenge Sprint Car series. Danielle Simpson jumped into that series last year as a rookie -- knowing nothing, she said -- after having been out of racing for a few years.

'Not a clue,' she said, laughing. 'Fortunately Dad built the (practice) track . . . the first year (of the 410s) was a whole bunch of hard learning experiences.'

Father and daughter often competed side-by side at the various oval tracks affiliated with that series, which average a quarter-mile around.

'When you're 28 and come along as a rookie you're at a disadvantage,' Dan Simpson, 67, said of the sport where racers usually start as youngsters. 'I was a rookie at 62.

But this year it all has an entirely new meaning now that Dan Simpson has acquired the series with the goal of getting it back on its feet.

The head office moved to downtown Rio Vista recently and the series was renamed Golden State King of the West Sprint Car series.

Those who know Dan Simpson well aren't too surprised at any of his endeavors, which include the award-winning Simpson Percherons; manufacturer DES, Inc.; and a downtown Rio Vista gym. He also plans to open a Go Kart facility in the spring.

Simpson could easily be described as a man with no 'off' button. Despite owning the series, he'll still be competing in it, alongside his daughter.

'Somebody had to (take it over) or it was going to be either, we wouldn't have it or it would've crept along,' Danielle Simpson said. 'It's a humongous undertaking but I think it's cool he's doing it.'

Simpson pit crew member Roy Van Connett has been around sprint cars his entire life. His father, Leroy Van Connett, is an eight-time Northern Auto Racing Club sprint car champion.

'They just kind of let it go without promoting it,' Roy Van Connett said of the series.

He said that if you didn't know the schedule and weren't in the 'clique,'

you wouldn't know a race was coming to town.

'Dan wants to advertise . . . let (people) know that (it's) coming to town,'

he said. 'That's something this series has never had.'

Along with acquiring the series, several other changes are afoot. There are some venue changes -- the series will race in California, Oregon and Washington, with the closest tracks being in Antioch, Calistoga, Placerville and Marysville. There will be 27 points races -- working with an overall point fund of $100,000 -- during the season slated to start in late March or early April.

In addition to advertising and prerace track parties, Dan Simpson is also marketing a reality TV show about the sprint car series designed to promote the sport and the drivers. He said he'd like to bring in some big names such as NASCAR standouts Kasey Kahne and Tony Stewart, who each got their start in dirt track racing.

'(Stewart) and Kasey have been fabulous for this sport,' Dan Simpson said.

'They give back a lot. I'm hoping to get several of them back to race one race with us.'

Simpson has made a commitment to carry the series for the next two to three years, he said. He's in the process of developing a staff, which could number up to eight in the coming months.

'You can't expect a series to come back overnight,' he said. 'I'd really like to see it re-establish itself and have some of these kids from quarter midgets have somewhere to go.'

Father and daughter will also continue to battle it out on the race track.

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