Riverside Raceway's Tony Wenck
Tony Wenck, the co-founder of Pit Pass Moto and owner of Riverside Raceway, joins us to discuss the latest on his track since a tornado devastatingly ripped through the community, the cost involved in running a track, and how he’s paying it forward. He also talks about getting into competing this year as he’s turning 45, and what his race goals are.
“Amateur motocross is broken” - Tony Wenck
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Coming off another record attendance event at Road America, the 2022 MotoAmerica season now heads to the west coast. First up is The Ridge Motorsports Park near Seattle June 24th – 26th. 6 classes of racing will take the track including 190 MPH Superbikes.
After this event, the MotoAmerica series heads south to the world-Famous Laguna Seca raceway July 8th – 10th. Laguna is the pinnacle of the MotoAmerica season, and this year will be no exception! Record crowds, vendors and race entries add up to an amazing event.
Tickets, info and complete schedule at motoamerica.com
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Pit Pass Moto is a production of Evergreen Podcasts. A special thank you to Tommy Boy Halverson, Producer Leah Haslage and Audio Engineers Dave Douglas and Eric Koltnow.
Speakers: Dave Sulecki, Dale Spangler and Tony Wenck
[Music Playing 00:00:00]
Dave: Welcome to Pit Pass Moto, the show that keeps you up to speed on the latest in motorcycling and brings the biggest names in motorcycle racing right to you. I'm Dave Sulecki-
Dale: I'm Dale Spangler, and this week's guest is Tony Wenck, owner of Riverside Raceway in Winterset, Iowa. MotoAmerica’s the official sponsor of Pit Pass Moto. Coming off another record attendance event at Road America, the 2022 MotoAmerica season now heads to the West Coast.
First up is the Ridge Motorsports Park near Seattle, June 24th through the 26th, where six classes of racing will take to the track, including 190 mile per hour superbikes.
After the ridge, MotoAmerica heads south to world famous Laguna Sacra Raceway, July 8th through the 10th. Laguna Seca is the pinnacle of the MotoAmerica season, and this year, will be no exception. Record crowds, vendors, and race entries add up to an amazing event.
Tickets info and a complete schedule can be found at motoamerica.com, and be sure to follow MotoAmerica on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.
Dave: This week's race recap is AMA Pro Motocross round four, coming from High Point Raceway in Mount Morris, Pennsylvania, and just about perfect conditions and perfect weather greeted the racers. And boy, it was cool to see ET3 (Eli Tomac), going into beast mode and he's keeping these Honda guys honest.
Goes 2-1 on the day and takes the overall over a very, very fast Chase Sexton. We had to wonder if the Honda guys were ever going to get beat, but look out when ET3 T gets on it, man, better look out.
Dale: Broc Glover who was the guest announcer this weekend put it best when he said that the level of athleticism and the technique of these riders today is just unbelievable right now. We're seeing like next level in motocross at the moment, and these guys are definitely world class athletes.
But how about Ryan Dungey hasn't raced at the High Point race track in seven years and comes back and he was a podium threat all day long. The second moto, especially, he was up there battling with the top guys and even passed Ken Roczen, was going to make a run at Chase Sexton.
But then the last lap passed by Roczen, push Dungey off the podium, but wow, it was really impressive to see him upfront running with their pace and seemed like they made some headway on the bike as well.
Dave: And I guess one low light on the day, Tony Cairoli (TC22) as we like to call him nine-time world champion, getting into a tussle with Christian Craig at the famous wall turn at High Point. He ended up on the ground. I think he bend his bike up and retired for the day. And unfortunately, I think that's it for Tony in the season. He is going back to Italy and racing no more nationals.
Dale: In the 250 class, once again, it was a Lawrence Brother sweep. The two exchanging moto wins and the second moto, especially, I think it was the battle we've all been waiting for; the two brothers going head-to-head back and forth for pretty much the entire moto, they were just right on each other.
And with Jett getting the upper hand, little brother getting the upper hand on big brother, gets the second moto win. 2-1 Moto score gives him the overall for an awesome race for the weekend.
Dave: No doubt which Lawrence brother's going to win is really what it's coming down to. But Michael Mosiman kept them honest. He was fast as hell until he faded back. And Justin Cooper, the Yamaha rider, struggling a little bit, goes 8-3 on the day.
He was really picked to be the front runner this season, but I think he's struggling with his conditioning. And I think the track took it out on him, but keep an eye on these Yamaha guys as the season develops.
Dale: One last observation I had overall though, is Honda seems to be onto something right now with their motorcycles. They've got the chassis and suspension seemed like dialed albeit though their riders are certainly smooth on the motorcycle, but they just look absolutely amazing, these two.
And speaking of Honda, Hunter Lawrence signed a two-year extension on his contract this weekend, so it looks like he's going to be with them for a couple more years.
[Music Playing 00:04:11]
Dale: Our industry spotlight this week focuses on the announcement that the United States Motorcycle Coaching Association and Yamaha Motor Corporation USA are proud to be raising money for the Waverly Tennessee schools devastated by the August 2021 deadly flooding.
Waverly and nearby Loretta Lynn's Ranch are recognized as the heart of American motocross. By launching The Laps for Learning Initiative in cooperation with Racers for Waverly and The Road 2 Recovery Foundation, USMCA and Yamaha are encouraging riders ages four and up to create a personal donation page to help raise funds for the Waverly School District.
The top 10 fundraisers will receive a complimentary six-day trip to Loretta Lynn's Ranch in October for a riding clinic and fall trail ride experience. For more information about becoming a part of Laps for Learning, visit mxsports.com.
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Dale: He's the owner of Riverside Raceway in Winterset, Iowa, and a former co-host of this show. Tony Wenck, welcome to Pit Pass Moto, how are you today?
Tony: Hi guys, co-founder, mind you, but that's been a hundred years ago. So, yeah, we're doing good. We're slinging fireworks. And the racetrack takes a break about June 1st and then we go into firecracker mode and we do that until about mid-July, and then I get back to dirt biking.
Dale: Well, it seems like every year, your racetrack, you grow a little bit more, you expand and improve your annual events like the Justin Brayton Pro Challenge. What are some of your long term goals with the track? And yeah, just tell us a little bit about what's been going on there, how the Pro Challenge went for you this year?
Tony: Well, this year, I don't know if you guys knew, but it was a pretty rocky start. About the time the snow starts to really melt and we can start going to work, we had a tornado rip through our valley there, and lost a bunch of our neighbors. And it looks like Ukraine. I mean, it's super nasty. It just ripped trees apart.
And my family was in the basement and I was on my way home from a track in Missouri, because it was still a little wet up here. And so, I went down to Missouri, this place called Challenge Trax that I really like, and I had a couple new dirt bikes, new Hondas that I was going to do Loretta's with.
I went down to break one in and just try it. I was on my way back and a buddy called and said, “Hey, are your girls home?” And she never answers the phone. And so, I called Sarah and said, “Hey, Ted says there's a tornado on its way and it's going to hit. And you guys need to take a blanket.”
And in our basement, we had a wood stove … I really like burning wood. It came with the house, but I like cutting wood and everything. But she huddled down and covered the girls up.
I have a two-year-old and a seven-year-old now, and covered them up with a blanket. And like a minute later, everything was completely gone. And I mean, like … the only thing that was left was the wood stove. And then the furnace and duct work kind of fell on them. It just kind of trapped them and kind of protected them and landed on Sarah's back, and she kind of protected the girls.
And I mean it ripped floor joists. It was completely daylight above them a minute and a half later. And so, we were hustling with that. I mean, thank God they're alive. And a lot of my neighbors didn't survive it.
Not only that, but the racetrack took a hit, which is only … it's connected to my property further down towards the river — ripped a couple of roofs off some buildings and lost a building and a lot of trees, and the doghouse, on the starting line. And Announcer Stan was flipped upside down, which has been there for 20 some years.
And it was a lot of work and still is to clean up, we're still cleaning up. Just getting the season started this year was really just kind of an undertaking. And our first event, people came out and drove … they wanted to do a GoFundMe and that kind of thing, and that's not my jam.
I said, “If you want to support the racetrack, come down my driveway.” And we had tons of locals come in and we always get good turnouts on Easter weekend. That's our first one. And we had, I think mid-five hundreds for practice on Friday, which I was pretty encouraged by. And then 722 was our number for Saturday.
And the weather was chilly, but it worked out and those are pretty decent numbers for us. And that's kind of what we've been experiencing with all of our spring races, is big numbers like that. And then on Easter, the day we weren't running, it snowed like six inches.
So, it was sweet that we were watching it snow and not having to run a motocross race. But it's been a rough start to the season. But then Brayton came back, we had the semi there from his team. It was a little bit of a semi-retirement party. You know, he's doing that world supercross thing, which we knew it. So, we didn't call it a retirement party. The “R” word's scary for some pros.
But he moved back to Iowa and so, it's cool having him locally again, and the Brayton Shootout just keeps growing and it's really neat to see that we … it was weird because we had a guy … one guy, I talked to — I like to stop by and say hi to people and I'm cruising by on whatever I was riding (a dirt bike or something).
And I just started talking to this guy and he said he came from California and it was his bucket list of races that he wanted to hit. And I just thought that's … my bucket list is like Iceland and he wanted to go ride Riverside Raceway at the Justin Brayton Shootout.
So, that to me, was really huge for me to take away and just be like, yeah, we're doing the right things for people.
Dave: Yeah, no doubt, giving the racers a ton of value. But your story though, it’s great to see not only the community pull together, but the moto community pull together and get your track and help you and get everything back up and running again.
I think people just look for that normalcy. When something devastating happens, they kind of gravitate towards trying to get things back to how they were.
Tony: Yeah, I think so. I mean, it's kind of tough because we don't live there obviously, anymore. We live in town, which is only four miles away. We have an apartment above a store downtown on this town square area. My girls don't mind it. They can walk to the park and ice cream shop and all that.
But I don't get to see them, they can't walk down the hill or ride their Stacyc down the hill or Jr50 whatever, and come hang out. Even just seeing them swing on the swing or the slide or whatever while I'm in the tractor or the dozer, it’s something nice for me as you know because I dedicate all my time there in the spring.
But I talked to Brayton, he called me after it happened. And he's like, “What do you think? Do you want to take the year off?” And I said exact opposite: we need to be running races and we need to be … because what are we going to do? Just sit around and think about the storm? You know, it's time to go to work.
And a lot of people turned out, man. It was a lot of people that showed up and I'm telling you, dude, we had a hundred people there cleaning up one day and they were all busy picking up sticks. I mean, the damage from a tornado is insane. You can't imagine.
Just the stuff, and we lost everything. But it's like just so much work to be ready for a deadline like that of Easter weekend. So, we had about a month to clean stuff up and it was a lot of work.
But it was more rewarding this year than ever for me as the owner operator. Just to be able to accomplish it was … to get the thing off and then have everybody show up and the weather didn't totally screw us this year, which was always a question mark when you're an organizer like me.
So, I'm with you. It was just good to get back to normal.
Dave: Well, you've been paying it forward with the track and your whole approach to Iowa motocross your entire life, Tony. And I think that's that family approach to the track. You put on these events and you offer things like free firewood, you've got playground for the kids to play on, a big sandbox, potluck dinners.
It seems like family-oriented activities, and do you think that's important to promoting in this sport to draw the families in and not just the individuals?
Tony: I think amateur motocross is broken. And I think there's a reason why you see all these practice tracks pop up all over, and it's something that we've continued to ignore as organizers. And you use the word “promoter,” I don't like it. It's like you used furniture salesman.
A lot of promoters are sleazy, and maybe I am. I try not to be; definitely not when it comes to running motocross races. But you've got 30 some classes, there's no time in the day, so you got to run four-lap races and then you end up cutting them if you get over 600/700 entries, which is great — that's how you get those entries.
And the thing is, is the 40 bucks, 45 bucks, 30 bucks, whatever it is you're charging, it isn't enough with the cost of fuel. Everybody's feeling that, but the diesel fuel is insane.
What we spend on our machines … I mean, if I don't touch my dirt 5 to 10 times before an event, it's not good enough. And I got good dirt, so I'm very particular about making sure the track's pristine and ready to go and good, and we prep during the day.
So, it's just a constant push to get it done with all those classes. And if you don't have all those classes and you're not getting people to sign up for two, three classes per day, you can't make money. You can't keep the doors open for the place.
And so, the entry fees, I wish we could charge more for the entry fees. I mean, a motorcycle's 10 grand now. The Camper, they're coming down, is a hundred. But between the truck and trailer or whatever, it's just like everything costs real money.
My porta potties (we're still using porta potties on my track), they've tripled in the last couple years and I understand why. Everybody's feeling it at the gas station and the grocery stores and everything else. Well, running on a dirt bike track is no different, sometimes worse.
My trophies are getting out of hand for prices and that kind of thing. So, insurance, all the things, and there's just too many classes so you have to run and rush through a day.
And I think the model's broken. And I've tried doing like offering less classes and longer motos. People aren't accustomed to it, they get tired. So, they're like, “Well, I'm only going to sign up for one class” because they are getting their money's worth finally. But all you do was you cut your income in half.
So, for the Brayton shootout, we're talking about going to a three-moto format. It's roughly 20 grand that I'm going to give up to do that. I've got to make it up somewhere because the events don't make the money you think they do.
So, we try to build value in other ways, like the free firewood, free pit bike racing, the free Stacyc racing. We have these pull start mini bike classes, and these guys are the show and they don't know that they're the show. They don't know that they're funny.
Some of them, I mean, they've got like helmets that they got at a garage sale and they're like Coleman pull start bikes that you see at like a tractor supply store for 500/600 bucks, and these guys are awesome. They are so much fun. They're like bad news bears when they show up. And so, we have that for entertainment.
I do firework shows, just try to make sure that everybody's stoked on the place and having a good time. And sometimes, we have freestyle guys, which is kind of played out for motocross guys, but it's still fun and cool to have something going on.
Red Bull’s there with music. It's just a lot of bags competition, bag tournaments. And we try to build the value up. But at the end of the day, everything costs money and it's getting harder and harder to operate a motocross track and run races. That's why you see all these tracks popping up with practice days because you get your money's worth.
You spend 30 bucks, you go out a hundred times, you're smoked by noon. What I do is I ride every class that they'll let me ride and I just go out and go out and go out until I'm absolutely tired. And it gets closer to Loretta's, I ride them all, and I'm still home by a little after lunch.
It's interesting what's going to happen with motocross on an amateur level. Loretta's always be there, Mammoth, Tonka, whatever, all those guys – people chasing that stuff, I don't think that's going to be affected as much as it will be on a local level.
Dale: Yeah, I can sense that you take a tremendous amount of pride, Tony, in just everything you do and you don't cut corners, which therefore, of course, it's going to make it so it's going to be more expensive because you're not cutting those corners, and you're making it more of this … from what you and Dave were just talking about; more experiential where you've got these pull start races. I even saw where like you have a toy track build off, which I thought was really cool.
Tony: Dude, it's so good.
Dale: Tell us more about that, but it just seems like you're really trying to just go out of your way to make it a destination thing for the families.
Tony: Well, I've got an awesome crew and everybody says it. But I really have the best crew. I think in my sign-up shed, I've got Jason and Christie and Rachel helps a lot. They do an awesome job.
And then I've got Checkers. I don't know if you guys see Checkers, but it's Chris Reisenberg and he's actually the marketing guy for Race Tech and he's from here or he’s from Fort Dodge and he moved up to Minnesota, and his fiancé, Jenny, they come down and help me.
And Checkers really comes up with these awesome ideas for promotion and stuff. And he's always thinking about how he can … and that's one thing he says — he's worked with other organizers or promoters or whatever, and he says they cut corners and it's frustrating and that's one thing we don't do.
We don't cut corners within reason, but like that sand track, that little toy, dirt bike track thing, it’s something he came up with and I said, “Sure, we'll try it.” It cost me 1,700 bucks for just the sand, but I get to put the sand on my track when I'm done and put it in a corner or something to make it fun.
I couldn't believe the response, the people that showed up for that, it was awesome. And we had Brayton and Nicoletti and Bradshaw and David Coombs, and Denny Stephenson — I don't remember who else was there. They were judges.
I think the parents thought it was cooler than the kids who the judges were. But yeah, I mean, stuff like that is super cool and Checkers is taking a shine into the racetrack and it's funny, he's got this promotion he's come up with. He's coming up with a freestyle ramp and a landing pad and he's going to in front of my store next weekend, I guess.
I've got that giant gorilla, the black cat gorilla with the … for fireworks, he's got the sunglasses and the shorts and stuff, and he's going to jump and do a giant air wheely over … he's a big boy too. I don't know if you've seen Checkers, but he can ride a motorcycle and he's a big guy, and it’s freaking awesome to watch him.
He does these air wheelies that you just think, is he going to loop out? I don't know if he's going to bring it back. And he's going to do a giant air wheelie over my big gorilla, which is a promotion that he wants to do for the fireworks store, which is sweet.
But for the track, he's come up with a lot of neat ideas and that's one of them. Yeah, we just keep trying stuff, make it interesting for people.
Dave: So, is the target … my favorite Tony Wenck picture, the circles with the helmet, the big smiling Tony face — is that what he's going to land on?
Tony: That logo, I was like at my biggest weight, like 300 pounds. I was actually seeing how big I could get at the time, which I know is ridiculous. But I was like see how much … I mean, I was eating like the gristle off my steak and like drinking way too much. And I was like, check it out, I'm going to hit 300.
Well, I ended up hitting 306 and I was still boogie and on a dirt bike. And we took this picture of me in this open face bell helmet with my cheeks … I mean, you had to squeeze the thing on. Actually, we have our own artillery shell here in the store and a 60-gram canister shell and we call it boom-boom shells. And that's the logo for the store.
So, we need that on Checkers, like on a cap or something when he does the air wheeler or something. It's a good idea. I need that.
Dave: Absolutely. I would love to see that. I think it just would be so perfect, I think. With that in mind, I know you raced and qualified for Loretta's, what are your plans for August?
Tony: I don't know yet. I'm still 50/50. I'm off the booze and I'm eating right and I'm pseudo training right now, I do spin classes probably three times a week. And you're always moving when you sell fireworks.
So, July 8th, we're done selling. Probably about July 5th, I kind of start lose interest in this place and they can run it, and I'm going to go to work. I'm going to start riding every day. I sold my new bikes. I gave one to Justin Brayton and the other one to the neighbor boy. So, I didn't actually ride them.
But I've got my 18. This will be the third year to Loretta's with that bike. And it's starting to feel like a used bike, it’s got 45 hours on it, which isn't bad. But the thing was bullet fast, but it's not now, so I don't know what's going to happen. We might redo it. I got another 2020 that I gave to my friend Tyler. He said I could have it back and we'll ride that maybe this next month.
But I think I got beat at the regional, which Mike Mercer and a couple of old, supercross pros, they showed up in the 40 class and I got fourth, and I was trying pretty hard. And I was surprised that the 40 guys are that fast. I don't think I'm going any slower, I just think everybody stepped it up. And then I won the 45 pretty easily.
There's the reason I want to go to Lorretta’s. The guy that won the 45 two years ago, I got him covered. No problem. And I'll turn 45 August 1st so, I'm AMA 45, kind of like he's AMA six (you always hear that at the races). I'm AMA 45. You have to be 45 by August 2nd. So, I'll be the absolute youngest guy in the class.
So, I feel like I should go at least this year. I know Jimmy Jarrett’s in the class, he's faster than me. He DNF won moto last year so anything can happen. I'd like to go try to win Loretta's and then if I can podium, I'm probably done with that.
I know winning Loretta's in the 45 class is like being the tallest kid in third grade, nobody cares except for the tallest kid in third grade, right?
Dave: There you go, it’s for sure.
Tony: Yeah. So, I don't know if it's … nobody cares, but I kind of want to go do that. And then if I can do that, like just top three, I'm probably done worrying about Loretta Lynns, and then I'll just go to Baja every year in August, because that's where I want to go anyway. That's where I'd rather be.
Dave: And you've had some great success down there. But you heard it here first, folks, so when you see number 44 on the line at Loretta Lynn’s this year, look out for Tony, the tiger.
Tony: We'll see, Jimmy Jarrett’s 44 too. Robbie Skaggs has been 44, my whole life at these nationals. So, I've had to take another number. So, we'll see if Jarrett gets his 44 or if I get 44. I might be running the 69.
Dave: There you go. My money's on you either way. I don't care if it's 44 or 69.
Tony: I appreciate it.
Dave: Tony, we could talk all day, man. And as always, it's great having you back on the show. And for sure, we wish you good luck with your near future, getting the family and the home back together and great news on the racetrack. I'm glad you guys are up and running again.
Where's the best place to find you or find out about Riverside Raceway, and also your side gig, Tony Wenck’s Factory Outlet — where's the best place to find out about that?
Tony: Facebook, we've got Facebook pages for both and Tony Wenck’s Factory Outlet Fireworks. And then Riverside Raceway and then our website for Riverside is riversideraceway.net.
Dave: Awesome. Thanks again for coming on Tony. We appreciate your time, man.
Tony: See you guys. Thanks for doing the show still. I appreciate it, it's awesome.
[Music Playing 00:24:09]
Dave: Thanks again to our guest for being with us today, and thank you for tuning in. If you enjoyed this episode, make sure to follow us on your favorite podcast app so you never miss an episode.
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Dale: This has been a production of Evergreen Podcasts, a special thank you to Tommy Boy Halverson, Producer Leah Longbrake, and Audio Engineer Eric Koltnow. I'm Dale Spangler-
Dave: And I'm Dave Sulecki, see you next week on Pit Pass Moto.