For more than a year, Baer Field Motorsports Park promoter Dave Muzzillo has been dreaming and working toward building a main event-level dirt track, and Saturday night he gets to see how it all works out. It took five months to build, about 165,000 yards of dirt being moved and more than 19 hours of grading. While also continuing in the speedway's asphalt roots, Muzzillo hopes the dirt track will trigger a rebirth.
"There's more excitement, and we're in the entertainment business," he said. "You have no idea what is going to happen from foot-to-foot. Each car runs a totally different line from lap-to-lap. They are moving around trying to find the best line and miss the holes."
The 1/4-mile dirt track will make its debut Saturday with spectator gates opening at 4:30 p.m. and racing starting at 7 p.m. There will be four divisions competing, highlighted with a winged sprint car spectacular. Tickets cost $20 for adults, $10 for children ages 9 to 15 and free for 8 & younger.
The dirt track will run once each during May, June, July and August before going weekly in September and October.
Muzzillo said what he learned building a 1/8-mile go-kart track at Baer Field three years ago helped with crafting the 1/4-mile track inside the 3/8-mile and 1/2-mile asphalt tracks. While the asphalt tracks have six-foot banking, the dirt track will have five-foot banking. It helped that the dirt track has a great clay foundation.
"It makes the best track ever because the clay will hold and be sticky all night, and when the sun goes down the moisture starts coming back up," Muzzillo said. "A dirt track won't hold dirt."
So far, the reviews are pretty good. Drivers David Gross, Brett Mann and Todd Sherman took some test laps Monday evening.
"If you go to a track like this or a track like Kokomo, the fans are up close to the action no matter where you are at on the track," Gross said. "I think it will be a lot of fun to race on. It's a little bull ring, and I love it. I love a flat little track, and I love this."
Driving for Fort Wayne car owner Terry Busche, Mann called it a drivers' track.
"It's going to take some finesse, and being patient, and less of a motor," he said. "It's not going to be a power track, just put it down and go type deal. You are going to have to finesse the car around and it will be some good racing. It's more of a skill track. I think it will be good. I've run tracks that drive like this and they usually put out pretty good races."
Though the Fort Wayne area hasn't had a dirt track since Fort Wayne Speedway or Avilla decades ago, there are plenty of dirt drivers who compete at tracks around the area. This will give all of them another option, especially in the fall.
Traditionally, Muzzillo said, dirt track races have been drawing better than asphalt races, and he's hoping for the track's best crowd over the last three years on Saturday. He's expecting as many as 100 cars to compete in the four divisions.
"It's not parade racing or follow the leader," Baer Field Assistant General Manager Kenny Barr said. "You can be in front and make a mistake and get passed by six guys but you still have a chance to win this thing because they could make the same mistake or you might find a groove that you get better bite on that nobody else does because you have the right tire compound, the right tire pressure or the right tread pattern on the tire. It's a much more exciting style of racing. The key to being a successful dirt track driver is matching the horsepower to the grip."
For more on local racing, follow Blake Sebring on Twitter at @blakesebring and on Facebook at Blake Sebring.