Berlin Raceway is going to get down and dirty in 2012.
Harkening back to the famed facility's beginnings as a dirt track six decades ago, the new management team of the Michigan speedway has announced plans to cover the 7/16th-mile oval's asphalt surface with a layer of clay for a spectacular season-ending program featuring the renowned World of Outlaws Late Model Series.
Keyser Manufacturing Co. of Coopersville, Mich., has signed on to sponsor the huge weekend scheduled for Sept. 21-22, providing fans from the Midwest and beyond the unique opportunity to witness dirt Late Model superstars sliding around one of the country's most storied and popular paved tracks.
A 100-lap WoO LMS A-Main paying $20,000 to win will serve as the highlight of the historic, as-yet-unnamed weekend. Berlin Raceway's management is setting up a fan contest to solicit ideas for the race's title, adding interactive flair to arguably the biggest dirt Late Model event ever contested in the state of Michigan.
"When we started making our plans for the 2012 season we threw around ideas that might create some excitement," said Berlin Raceway general manager Mike Bursley. "We thought putting dirt down for a big end-of-the-year show would be something that's not only different, but also great for the racetrack and great for the fans.
"We're going to bring Berlin Raceway back to where it started when Chet Mysliwiec and his family built it - and doing it with the World of Outlaws will be huge."
A staple of the Wolverine State's motorsports scene since 1950, Berlin Raceway will celebrate its 62nd year of competition in 2012 with the energetic duo of Bursley, 28, and Kurt Dietrich, 33, serving as co-promoters for DBD Ventures, the Don Dewitt-led investment group that purchased the track's lease during the off-season. The first dirt race since Berlin was paved in 1966 will conclude an ambitious '12 schedule that includes the track's traditional weekly action and major events.
The much-anticipated dirt-track weekend at Berlin will kick off on Thurs., Sept. 20, with an open practice session. The WoO LMS will take center stage for the remainder of the historic meet, running time trials and heat races on Fri., Sept. 21, and last-chance races and the 100-lap A-Main on Sat., Sept. 22.
The century grind figures to play a critical role in the battle for the $100,000 WoO LMS points championship. Just four more points races are scheduled to be contested after the national tour's visit to Berlin.
"We're thrilled to have the opportunity to headline one of the most exciting racing weekends the state of Michigan has ever seen," said WoO LMS director Tim Christman. "It's truly an honor to know the management of a well-known short track like Berlin Raceway holds the World of Outlaws Late Model Series in such high esteem that they are entrusting our officials and teams to help make the dirt-track weekend a memorable one."
The process of applying a dirt surface on Berlin Raceway will begin immediately after the track presents its final scheduled pavement event of the season on Sept. 8. Bursley said the speedway has already made arrangements to truck in over 10,000 yards of clay excavated from the site of an athletic-field construction project at a nearby college.
"It's quite a commitment to pull off something like this, but we've done our homework," said Bursley, who plans to work with local dirt-track promoters and seek their assistance in surface preparation to ensure the success of Berlin's big program. "We're serious about doing this right. We want to make this a yearly event."
Dirt-trackers who are unfamiliar with Berlin will discover a jewel of a track located less than 20 minutes from Grand Rapids, Mich. The facility was virtually rebuilt after its 2001 purchase by the West Michigan Whitecaps, a minor league baseball team that invested in infrastructure upgrades that included a new sound system, restrooms, private party areas, catch fencing and other amenities. More improvements came under Michael Blackmer, who leased the track in 2008 before transitioning to ownership the following season.
Berlin Raceway boasts a seating capacity of 8,800 and a uniquely-shaped track that will certainly prove to be a challenge for dirt Late Model racers.
"It's really almost a circle, so the cars will rarely be going straight when they're running on dirt," said Dietrich, Berlin's operations and marketing manager. "It will definitely lend itself to some real fast and interesting racing."
More details of Berlin's Keyser Manufacturing Co. dirt-track weekend will be announced in the near future, including information on ticket prices and advanced sales; support divisions that will compete; and a complete schedule of events.
Fans can get involved immediately by e-mailing their suggestions for an event name to firstname.lastname@example.org by Feb. 29. Track officials will pick five event names and then post them for fan voting at www.berlinraceway.com. The fan who submits the winning event name will receive four free tickets to the weekend and other perks to be announced.
The latest information on the event is available by logging on to www.berlinraceway.com or calling the track office at 616-662-2051.
For more information on the WoO LMS, visit www.worldofoutlaws.com.
Fans can also follow the WoO LMS on Twitter at Twitter.com/WoOLateModels and Facebook at Facebook.com/WorldofOutlaws .