Owen Pittman on the right track at Texana

By Phil Whipple,
RaceOnTexas.com Staff Writer. Photo By Rachel Plant 

SANDIA, Texas — In this strange and unusual season of short track racing, there are tracks all over the country struggling to cope with the impacts of a global pandemic. Yet some tracks are just the opposite, drawing tons of cars and, in states where it's allowed, drawing big crowds to enjoy their weekly shows.

Down in the quaint little town of Edna, Texas, there is a lovely little 1/4-mile oval known as Texana Raceway Park. You might think because of its rural backdrop and out-of-the-way location, business would be slow there. Yet just the opposite has happened, and there's one man leading the resurgence.

Longtime race official, announcer and promoter Owen Pittman is at the helm of Texana this year, and by all accounts, is having a fantastic season. Big car counts, great racing and happy fans are all good indications that Pittman and his staff are doing things right.

“We've worked real hard to be consistent this year,” Pittman said. “We brought in some new people to work with me. We are focusing on being consistent at enforcing the rules, and are trying to do the right thing by the drivers. That is my number one concern, and I've always been that way.

“After the drivers are happy, then we focus on our marketing efforts and try to fill the grandstands. We're just trying to be honest, fair and keep a good synergy among the drivers. Everything we do needs to be consistent, from making calls to track preparation. So far in 2020, the team has done their jobs.”

This exciting season at Texana brought new faces to Victory Lane, and echoes the expansion of a class that's seeing phenomenal growth across the state of Texas in 2020.

“The Factory Stock class has been nothing short of amazing this year,” Pittman explained. “We've had an average of 45 to 50 of them in the pits for every show. It's been a little ridiculous the amount of cars we have in that class. It's super competitive, they're so close together it's almost insane.

“Obviously Dalton Faulkner started off as the dominant driver, but then Colin Hodges and others have stepped up and given him all he can handle. Lawrence Mikulencak also won a big race this year, which was cool. That class has been extremely tight all season, and I don't see it changing anytime soon.”

And it's not just the full-fendered, recycled Monte Carlo class that's impressing Pittman this year.

“Our Limited Modifieds are going strong this year, as well,” Pittman added. “Our Modified drivers also put on a great show. The point leader likes to run the top side, and when that line is working, he really puts on an exciting show for our fans. I'll say it right now, across the board, we're blessed with talent.”

Pittman has an extensive background in the organizational and promotional side of the sport. In fact, this isn't the first oval he's saved from extinction. His passion for racing has driven him for many years.

“I ran the old Corpus Christi Speedway for two years in the early 2000s,” Pittman explained. “Then I jumped into racing promotion with both feet and ran South Texas Speedway for the next 10 years after that. I had a good time at CC Speedway, the asphalt track was really fun for me. I enjoyed it a lot.

“Of course, I also ran the Texas Asphalt Modified Series with my cousin, Wayne Norrell. That was before I went to CC Speedway, so I kind of left him at the helm and walked away so I could go run a race track. But the owner of CC was more about money than racing, and I was more about racing than money. He wanted three intermissions to sell lots of t-shirts and hot dogs. I left there and moved on.”

To no surprise, Pittman says race days at Texana can be hectic. There is a lot to oversee to ensure things go off the way they're intended.

“I end up pretty busy on race nights, wearing three or four hats at one time,” Pittman explained. “I serve as Race Director, I'm talking on the Race-Ceiver am also the the announcer, trying my best to keep our fans informed and excited about the program. I'm lucky to have a staff that keeps it rolling.”

Pittman has no time to babysit racers or his staff, and they don't require much oversight. When a night goes well and things get quiet, the promoter says there is one thing in particular that makes him happy.

“This may sound cliché and some may think I'm supposed to say this, but it comes from the heart,” Pittman said. “The thing I truly enjoy most about doing this is seeing a big ol' smile on the faces of little kids, and having them tell me what a great time they're having at the track.

“The other thing I really enjoy is when a fan comes up to me and says they had a great time. To me, having a fan tell me it was a great show is way more rewarding than anything else in this business. At Texana this year, we've had some great fan feedback. That's what keeps me doing this tough job.”

One hot topic among dirt track fans and enthusiasts around the country is the length of typical weekly programs. Unlike asphalt ovals (where promoters discovered long ago the American attention span has sadly been reduced to about three hours), dirt track shows can easily run until 11 p.m. or well beyond.

Pittman is aware of that issue, and (thankfully) says a long, drawn-out program makes his blood boil.

“I'm the world's worst promoter when it comes to delays and having a show run late,” Pittman said with great emphasis. “I can't stand it. Most people that know me well know I yell and scream a bit on the radio because I'm not happy with the timing of things. It's all about timing with me.

“In an ideal world, we could fit the whole program into a two and a half-hour time slot. That's about the length most would be comfortable with, but with our car counts, that isn't reality. I always strive to get done at 10 p.m., if possible. Have we achieved that in 2020? No, we have not. It's been a struggle.”

Despite the fact Texana has enjoyed such a strong year in this pandemic-stricken season, the industry overall took a huge hit. The impact may last well beyond 2021, yet Pittman says there's an upside.

“It's hard for me to use the word “rebound” for 2021, since I'm having one of the best years ever in my promotional career,” Pittman added. “But yes, overall I do feel the sport will bounce back. In fact this year, the pandemic has driven our sport to new levels. Folks had very little else they could go do.”

Pittman knows racers are an aging group, it has been well documented around the nation. So he takes steps to ensure the current driver development program is on track, generating interest among kids.

“I'm a huge fan of Kart racing, because those kids are the future of our sport,” he said. “I won't run an event without Karts involved. I have a love for children who want to be involved in our sport and keep it alive in the future. If we can continue to gain interest among children, our future will remain bright.

“There was a Little League team in Corpus Christi that couldn't play baseball this year, so they went out and bough Karts. They're competing at Texana and L87 each week, having the time of their lives. So that's one way that racing gained from the pandemic. Overall, it's been a great season at Texana.”

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