Wisconsin Will Host a Major Racing Event This Year

The Superstar Racing Experience is coming to Washington County

The national spotlight will shine brightly on Slinger Speedway this summer.

The Washington County racetrack has been selected to host one of Superstar Racing Experience’s events as part of a new short-track, six-race stock car series that will launch in June.

The race at Slinger, which is touted as the “world’s fastest quarter-mile oval,” will air live during prime time on CBS and the streaming service CBS All-Access on July 10.

The Superstar Racing Experience series, or SRX for short, will feature drivers from a variety of racing backgrounds with a focus on head-to-head competition in short, sprint races. The 90-minute races will be produced within a two-hour television window.

SRX has secured driver commitments from some of the sport’s biggest names, including SRX co-founder Tony Stewart, Bill Elliott, Tony Kanaan, Paul Tracy, Bobby Labonte, Willy T. Ribbs, Mark Webber, Ernie Francis Jr. and Helio Castroneves, as well as more drivers who will be announced at a later date.

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“There are traveling racing series all over the country every weekend, but when you put one of this caliber together and then put it live on broadcast TV, anybody and everybody can see this all over the country,” Slinger Speedway owner and promoter Todd Thelen said. “This is a whole different level.”

Thelen said he’s especially excited about the mixing racers from stock car, open-wheel and Formula One backgrounds.

SRX and CBS Sports announced the full 2021 schedule this week. The series will begin at Stafford Motor Speedway in Stafford Springs, Connecticut, on June 12. The final and championship race of the inaugural season will take place at the Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway on July 17.

“With a six-week, back-to-back schedule that crosses America, visiting some of the most historic and challenging short tracks in auto racing, the SRX series will be a must-watch, and I am so excited to see these legends on the track,” SRX co-founder and NASCAR Hall of Fame crew chief and owner Ray Evernham said.

The goal in crafting the schedule is to feature tracks that are challenging, unique and have a strong motorsports history, Stewart said in a statement.

“This six-race series does just that,” Stewart said. “All demand respect and each force drivers to adapt. What works at one track won’t necessarily transfer to another.”

Photo by QCWilly Photography

Slinger Speedway offers “action-packed, side-by-side racing,” Thelen said. “It really is an entertaining venue for racing because of the layout of the track.”

Many of NASCAR’s top drivers have competed at the Slinger Nationals, the racetrack’s signature event.

Discussions about Slinger Speedway hosting an SRX race began about two years ago, Thelen explained.

“I thought we’d be a good a fit. I know some people at Tony Stewart Racing and I’m pretty well connected in the racing world,” he said.

The effort got a boost from Cambridge, Wisconsin-native and retired NASCAR champion driver Matt Kenseth.

“He put in a good word for me and the racetrack,” Thelen said.

SRX contacted Thelen in August to inquire about possible dates for a race. Negotiations continued through the fall and a contract was signed right before the end of the year.

NASCAR champions like Kenseth and Alan Kulwicki came out of Slinger Speedway, Thelen noted.

“Slinger Speedway has been known to a lot of people for a long time. It’s kind of like the Lambeau Field of short-track racing and this will be like having a Super Bowl at Lambeau Field,” he said.

Slinger Speedway has a 10,000-seat capacity but has been operating under social distancing guidelines throughout the pandemic and initially has made 2,500 tickets available for the SRX race.

Photo by QCWilly Photography

“We’ve got about 25 percent open for sale right now until we see what happens,” Thelen said.

Slinger Speedway operated this past racing season with strict adherence to COVID-19 mitigation measures.

“I even bought a thousand gallons of hand sanitizer,” Thelen said. “We waded through it last summer and we were fortunate enough that we did not get one tracing back to the speedway. We never let in more than 25 percent. I worked pretty hard with state and local legislators to just get the doors open so I’m going to do what they recommend at this point. That’s what we did and that’s what I’m going to continue to do right now through the winter. If we can get back to some normalcy this summer, maybe we can get back to a full crowd.”

Thelen admits that putting on the SRX race presents a major challenge, given that it be only four days after the running of the Slinger Nationals.

“Old-school promoting says you don’t run big events that tight together but I’m thinking this may be a once in a lifetime opportunity, so we have to do it,” Thelen said. “It’s going to be a really big week for us.

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Rich Rovito is a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine.