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Back On Track: Colorado Springs area raceway finds a niche apart from NASCAR

March 15, 2015 Updated: March 15, 2015 at 9:07 am
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photo - A participant competes in an event at PPIR the weekend of March 7, 2015. Photo courtesy of PPIR
A participant competes in an event at PPIR the weekend of March 7, 2015. Photo courtesy of PPIR 

When Bob Boileau, president of Pikes Peak International Raceway, wears a T-shirt bearing the track's name, he often gets approached by people lamenting its closure.

After having to explain again and again that the race track is open, he's come up with a simple goal for 2015.

"This year, we're going to let people know we're here," said Boileau, who became president of the PPIR in January. "We're going to invite people out. We're going to have a lot of events, and people are going to have fun."

It's easy to understand why people think the property is closed.

The raceway, which used to be the Pikes Peak Meadows horse racing track, once hosted NASCAR and IndyCar events, with seating for 42,787. People driving by on Interstate 25 near Fountain could see the fans in the grandstand from the highway.

But the race track - built in 1996 for $35 million - never lived up to its potential. Instead of drawing NASCAR's major Nextel Cup series events, it got more of the organization's minor-league races that failed to pull in big crowds.

The track also went through a transformation that included multiple ownership changes in the 2000s.

In November 2001, Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. took over the track for $16.8 million after the previous owner foreclosed. Four years later, a subsidiary of the Florida-based International Speedway Corp., which owns NASCAR, bought it for $10.3 million.

The company shut it down not long after and stripped it of about 30,000 seats to be used at other venues.

Almost three years later, in August 2008, a group of private investors under the name Pikes Peak Raceway Inc. purchased the racetrack for just under $9 million and reopened it the following spring.

But the sale came with a condition, Boileau said: International Speedway Corp. placed a deed restriction on the new ownership group stating that it couldn't host a nationally televised racing event with more than 5,000 spectators.

That ended up being just fine with the new ownership, said Boileau, who became the track's general manager in 2009 before being named president on Jan. 1. The goal was always to transition from a NASCAR venue.

"That hasn't been our focus because that was a recipe that hadn't worked in the past," Boileau said. "I just don't think we have the motor sports population that other parts of the country have."

Instead, the new ownership has gone in a different direction - hosting motorcycle races, USA roller sports competitions and "human-powered" events, such as a lantern festival. Attendance can range from the hundreds to thousands, with numbers topping out at about 5,000 to 6,000, Boileau said.

Outside the barrier of the 1-mile banked oval course, the property can also host law enforcement training sessions, 5Ks and corporate and business events on its approximately 1,200 acres.

"Instead of trying to fill the stands two to three times a year, we just try to have a steady flow of customers every day, all year round," Boileau said.

That can be a challenge, he said, because it means he is always looking for events to fill open dates, and he has to keep the facilities in good condition to be used at a moment's notice.

And while not as flashy as national and international racing competitions, the stream of events has grown over the years and provided a more sustainable business model, he said.

Boileau did not provide specifics but said revenue is increasing and "we're holding our own."

Boileau said he hopes to increase the number of events the track can host by eventually building a 1/3-mile dirt oval, a paved quarter midget racing track, a drag strip and a 2- to 2.5-mile paved road course on the property.

Until then, Boileau is hosting events like time attack and drifting competitions in the raceway's parking lot to give enthusiasts a safe and structured place to have fun and increase PPIR's reach on social media, he said.

It's another of Boileau's efforts to try and reinvent PPIR in 2015 and beyond.

"It's time to grab another gear and go faster," he said.

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Contact Stephen Hobbs: 636-0275

Twitter @bystephenhobbs

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