A cauldron full of emotions have swirled around Selinsgrove Speedway over the last six weeks. The gamut includes fear, anxiety, relief, and excitement.
Matt Keller, who is president of the Fair Board that oversees the speedway, has been through it all. When the current team terminated the lease a couple of weeks ago, there was a sense of urgency on the board.
Now, that angst has turned to a feeling of content. It became common knowledge over the last week that Steph Baker and her sons, Ethan and Reece, have formed ERS Promotions, LLC, and signed a 10-year lease to run Selinsgrove Speedway starting in 2023.
“We got together and talked about it a little bit,” Keller said of discussing the project with Baker. “I thought these guys were going to give me a termination letter, and nothing was set in stone, so I couldn’t talk a lot about it. They gave me the letter, and they had three more years without any type of rate increase. So, they had right of first refusal.
“I’m relieved. We had a meeting tonight, and there are such positive things going on with that racetrack. Everybody is so ecstatic, now. It’s crazy. The energy and people coming out of the woodwork to help is phenomenal. It was time for a change.”
A NEW REGIME
Stephanie Baker has spent most of her life on the manufacturing side of racing, as well as countless hours in pit areas across the country.
Racing is in her blood, and she has built countless relationships in the sport, including with members of the Fair Board at Selinsgrove. Still, she didn’t see herself promoting a speedway as an individual or a member of a group.
That changed toward the end of the Summer. After talking to Keller and then her kids, it’s something that went from a fleeting thought to reality.
“When the opportunity was presented to us, I didn’t think it was something I wanted to do,” Baker said in a phone interview. “Then, with the encouragement and presenting it to the boys, they were like, ‘Absolutely.’ There was no hesitation on their part.
“They loved the idea that this can be the legacy they have. They look at racing from being a racer, a manufacturer’s experience, and now this. It’s exciting and scary for me. For them, it’s like, ‘Let’s do it.’ This is what they want to spend the next 20 or 30 years doing.”
Once the decision was made to move forward, the new management team jumped in with both feet by signing a long-term deal.
It’s an agreement that might seem alarming. There are a lot of factors that go into running a racetrack, some of which are outside of the business’ control. Things like the economy, product shortages, and more can determine success or failure.
Baker and her sons took everything into consideration. Still, the new promotional team was set on solidifying their intentions to, not only the Fair Board, but the racing community.
“Unfortunately, I’m an all or nothing type of person,” Baker said. “I think a 10-year lease was important, because if I’m asking teams and sponsors to invest in us and the speedway, I have to be in it for the long haul. I don’t think it’s fair to say, ‘Let’s try it for a few years.’ Instead, we are taking this for 10 years.
“I know things aren’t great right now, but I think it will turn around. As far as car counts, I think if we make that investment, it will turn. The first couple of years are going to be figuring things out and making them better. Hopefully at the end of the 10th year, we have it down, and we are ready to sign for another 10 years.”
What could help this group is the generational gap within the management team itself. Baker is 47 years old, with Ethan checking in at 20 and Reece 17.
Baker has years of experience dealing with race teams and customers. Ethan and Reece, who have worked on their father’s car and others, have some of that old-school knowledge but also ideas that could appeal to millennials.
“I think we are relying on each other,” said Ethan Stutts, who is slated to take care of the general manager duties. “I have connections to people she doesn’t, and she knows people I don’t know. I think it’s a combination of people we know and pulling it all together and connecting in our different ways to, hopefully, make this deal keep rolling.”
THE NEXT STEP
Before ERS Promotions, LLC, can get to work on making improvements, there is some unfinished business with the previous management team.
Charlie Paige promoted the speedway for 15 years before deciding not to renew his lease. It left the Fair Board looking for a new promoter and a way to purchase assets from Paige so the speedway could continue.
Mike Heffer spearheaded a group to take over the lease in 2016. He also provided a loan to the Fair Board to purchase the assets. Now, that loan needs to be repaid before ERS Promotions can take over.
“We borrowed money from them, and it was nice of them to do that,” Keller said. “It helped keep the track going when Charlie exited. We had to purchase all of the equipment, so we still have a little bit of a balance we owe them.
“It’s nothing that isn’t doable. That’s not going to be a problem for us at all. There are enough people on the board, or around the board, that if we have to go to the bank, that’s what we are going to do.”
The lease for the previous management team of Mike Heffner, Todd Benner, Brian Scandle, Steve Inch, and a few others, expires on Dec. 31. The group has indicated that once payments are made, the new promoters can start business at the speedway.
But Baker and her sons have already started putting things in place outside the facility. Current employees have been given the option to stay, and Baker has already started thinking about creating new positions at the facility.
Scheduling is also being addressed. Baker indicated that she has reached out to different sanctioning bodies and is open to hosting different divisions.
“We are open to absolutely anything and everything,” Baker said. “I think that maybe, in central Pennsylvania, we are all using the same model on a regular basis. Maybe we want to try something a little different and have a little bit of everything here and there.
“I think the nice part is that we aren’t locked into anything. I think we can do whatever we want. We can race whenever we want and race whatever we want. We have the facility to do it. So, I would like to see a big variety and see what the fans love and what they want more of at the speedway.”
Continued Baker, “We can run 410s and Modifieds, we can run Sportsman and 305s, and Limited Late Models and Roadrunners. I want to see big Late Model and Modified races. I want to see a little bit of everything. I want big shows and special shows.”
As for the number of dates on the 2023 schedule, that’s yet to be determined. It will depend on how many sanctioning bodies commit to running at Selinsgrove Speedway, as well as open dates on the calendar.
Baker has no desire to schedule on top of races at other speedways. That means the first year could be a case of trying to see what people want combined with what is available.
“I want it to be primarily special shows, but at the same time, I want to keep it active enough that if we can run a series with some of the divisions that don’t have a home track, per se, we would do that,” Baker said. “I think we need to get a feel for what the race fans want.
“I don’t want to step on anybody’s toes. Williams Grove is a Friday night track. Lincoln and Port run every Saturday, and I don’t want to divide the cars and fans. So, I think we have to look at it and see who is running where and when. We need to see what we can make happen since we are the last ones coming to the table this year.”
As is the case with most racetracks, Selinsgrove Speedway is a work in progress. Baker and her sons know they will be learning as they go the first year.
That isn’t going to stop ERS Promotions from diving in with improvements. Baker indicated that she wants to move the scoring tower out of the infield and make adjustments to the racetrack that will help with safety and the overall product on the track.
“I think it’s a learning year, but I think that is a blessing, too,” Baker said. “We are coming in late, and there are so many variables, but I think that gives us opportunities that other tracks don’t have.
“Other tracks have models that are already set up, and we can play with it a little bit and see what works for our fan base. We are lucky at Selinsgrove that we have an incredibly passionate and loyal fanbase. We just have to play with things and find the model our fans like best and try to bring that to them on a regular basis after this year.”
It’s been a whirlwind four-week stretch for Baker and her sons. There have been meetings on top of meetings and hours spent on the phone with people Baker respects and different sanctioning bodies across the country.
Along the way, Baker’s learned some valuable lessons. Rumors have swirled, and according to her, some words have been taken out of context. Unfortunately, that’s part of the dirt-track racing game.
“I respect what the Speedway Management Group did up there,” Baker said. “I’m very grateful to them for keeping racing going the past seven years.
“It’s important to talk about the fact that the Fair Board is working on being restructured, because the model they have now isn’t one where they can financially help whoever has the lease. So, they are working on changing that as soon as they can.
“The speedway is not for sale. It will never be for sale. That is their goal, to always keep it a speedway. I’m working with the Fair Board to restructure them, so hopefully they can come with a plan more like Port Royal does where they can help raise money through grants and put it back into the speedway.”
Said Ethan, “Selinsgrove holds a place in our hearts, because it’s a place where we grew up being there with my Dad. It’s a place we really care about and want to succeed, and if we can be a part of that, it’s something we want to do. This is something we are looking forward to, and we will try to do the best we can for everybody.”