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Modern Shelton racetrack offers thrills of yesteryear

Shelton-Mason County Journal of Shelton, Washington

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"Shelton Racing Rules the Scene," the headline reads. It's the early 1950s, and Shelton is riding high in sports-car racing.

Trace the history, and you find Shelton a major stop in a circuit that draws sports-car racing enthusiasts to airport tracks from Abbotsford, British Columbia, to Portland, Oregon. There were stops at Bellingham, Bremerton's Kitsap County Airport and Paine Field in Everett. Shelton's airport was a favorite.

"Racing started at Shelton Airport in 1952," writes Martin Rudow in his classic story of Northwest sports-car racing, "Long Straights and Hairpin Turns." That's where you find the Shelton headline and a lot more.

It was 1952, Rudow recalls, "when the Civil Air Patrol began putting on bi-weekly events at the Shelton facility that featured drag racing, midgets, stock cars, sports cars and even airplanes."

Photographs tell the Shelton story. Famed sports-car driver Pete Lovely is shown holding the lead in an early '50s race on the Shelton airport course in his Jaguar XK120. Another picture shows a pair of Porsches that George Keck and Ralph Ormsbee drive "in a very early race at Shelton."

"A surprisingly large number of spectators, most of them locals, showed up for the Shelton races," writes Rudow. Early promotion efforts plastered posters on telephone poles announcing race day. Spectators paid a dollar for a ticket to a viewing area.

That first Shelton course in 1952 used only a portion of the airport, and a flat lap was just 1.85 miles long. That's a far cry from the newest sports-car race course now calling Shelton home.

Set on a 170-acre site just a few miles north of the old Shelton airport course is The Ridge Motorsports Park, an expertly designed 2.47-mile track with its 16 turns and more than 300 feet of up-and-down elevation changes.

It's built and designed to bring back the heyday of sports-car racing that once put Shelton in the center of attention. It is particularly suited for owners of today's high-performance sports cars who long to see what their expensive machines can achieve in speed and road ability.

No longer can the owner of a Porsche, Lotus, BMW or Audi use a state highway as a venue for a speed run (legally, anyway). The kind of driving sportscar owners regularly found on the highways of the 1950s are long gone. So they must turn to today's closed courses. High Performance Driving Experience, or HPDE, is what today's sports-car owners seek. That's what they can find at The Ridge Motorsports Park.

The park's owners are proud of what they offer. "Each lap of The Ridge Motorsports Park road circuit thrills with high speed straights and sweeper turns, huge compressions and blind weightless crests." They go on to describe a course "where you walk the tightrope between speed and grip" and take a breathtaking plunge into technically difficult turns.

It's a colorful effort to once again attract the sports-car racing world to Shelton. Can it emulate what Shelton had 60 years ago? Can it bring back the sports-car racers, the spectacle and the spectators, and return to when "Shelton Racing Rules the Scene"?

Jay Hupp certainly hopes so. In his youth, he loved racing cars. Today, as one of Shelton's leading promoters of business and industry, Hupp sees the new race course as an important piece of Mason County's tourist-industry future.

Give it time and appropriate attention, says Hupp, and Martin Rudow's accounting of the classic days of sports-car racing can indeed be reborn — right here in Shelton.

John KoMen, who lives on Mason Lake, was for 40 years a reporter and editor, TV anchorman, national television network correspondent, producer, columnist, editorial writer, and commentator. His column, Komen Comment, appears each week in the Mason County Journal.

Copyright 2015 Shelton-Mason County Journal, Shelton, Washington. All Rights Reserved. This content, including derivations, may not be stored or distributed in any manner, disseminated, published, broadcast, rewritten or reproduced without express, written consent from SmallTownPapers, Inc.

Original Publication Date: January 8, 2015

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