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The Moto Sport Spectator

Ridge Motorsports Park

Puget Sound's best bet yet

By David Freiboth

On a sunny Sunday over the Labor Day weekend, I broke out the Triumph for a ride to the Washington Motorcycle Road Racing Association (WMRRA) club race at The Ridge Motorsports Park just outside Shelton. For some, the location of this brand new facilityalmost 100 miles from the greater Puget Sound metro areamay seem a bit out of the way. While it’s true that Pacific Raceways is just up the road midway between Seattle and Tacoma, I would argue that a ride to The Ridge is actually part of the allure. Instead of blamming down the I-5 slab to Shelton via Olympia and up SR 101, I took a different route. From Seattle south, I took a right off I-5 onto SR 16 to the Narrows Bridge. I then continued up SR 16 to Purdy, hanging a left on SR 302 over to the Key Peninsula and on to Allyn where I joined up with HY 3 for the ride to Shelton. One should map out getting to The Ridge from Shelton, since directional signage to the facility is currently non-existent.

Above: Turn 13 provides entry into an S-curve as well as an elevation drop all rolled up into one.

Ridge co-owner, Rod Powell, had a vision for a motorsports facility that would draw more from Northern California’s Thunderhill Raceway than from the more famous Laguna Seca complex. "Thunderhill’s bread and butter is the ‘track day’ street performance users ... the high performance rider or driver who can purchase a 180mph super bike or sports car but have little opportunity of actually using such a machine without risking their license. We designed this track to be a state-of-the-art facility where the limits can be explored in a safe, controlled environment."

Above: The vintage class takes over during WMRRA racing. With the track so new, it harkens back to other images of tracks in the Puget Sound during the early 1900s

For those seeking a lower impact approach to track sessions, the best bang for the buck has to be WMRRA’s "Taste of Racing" program. On my visit, over a dozen street riders paid $20 for a 20-minute lunch break session on The Ridge’s 2.5-mile road course. After a quick meeting with WMRRA Course Marshal Russ Wieand we hit the track. With all the safety measures built into the session, Wieand’s comment that, "You’re safer on track than you were riding here (to the track)" rings true.

Above: Battling it out on Turn 15.

About the Track

The track at Ridge Motorsports Park features 16 turns and several hundred feet in elevation gains and descents. That's comparable to the new Oregon Raceway Park facility in Grass Valley, and superior to what has been available at other local tracks in the Puget Sound area. See map below.

While WMRRA runs their program here several times a year, a number of other organizations run track days here often, which means you can sign up for a track day and ride this state of the art track on your own bike.

Puget Sound Safety is currently looking into booking the track to teach its Advanced Street Skills course there in the future. Those interested in riding the course in both directions may have such an opportunity should this materialize. Whatch our News Bytes section here for more info when it becomes available.

While the street riders were out on course, I asked WMRRA President Tim O’Mahoney what he thought about the new facility. "This is one of the safest and fun race tracks I have ever raced on!" enthused O’Mahoney, who’s been road racing for thirty years. "The management of this track came to us right from the start looking for input on how to make the place safe and fun." He continued "And they were responsive to our suggestions immediately. If we asked for a tree be moved it was moved ... the next day!" This desire to work with motorcycle users contrasts favorably to the renovation work that recently went into Spokane Raceway Park, where the planners laid out the new revisions without seeking any input from motorcycle riders. "Now there are obstacles on the outside of a couple of turns that are real hazards to motorcycle racers. It is so bad we had to quit going there," said O’Mahoney.

"What I learned from listening to motorcycle and car users is there is different crash run-off trajectories for each (discipline)," said Powell. "Runoff for cars is needed at the exit of the corners, for bikes it’s at the entry. (As a car racer) I wouldn’t have known that if I hadn’t worked with the motorcycle users."

In terms of spectating, The Ridge has limitations at this point in its development, although Powell is working hard to mitigate the challenge. He personally loads spectators into the back of an open construction trailer and takes them up the ridge down the middle of the track (hence the name) so the back section of the track can be viewed. Even then spectating is limited. "It’s a compromise right now," he admits. "Until we get to our next phase and are able to build a bridge and construct seating, spectating will be less than ideal." That’s not to say spectating amenities aren’t in future plans. "Our primary start-up goal was to cater to the performance "track day" and club racing users," said Powell. "Once we get established and find our place in the (local) community, there is no reason not to look at expanding spectating (amenities)." Powell is quick to add that there are no plans to promote pro races at this point. "The local infrastructure wouldn't support it (a major event)," he added, "and it was not in our pro forma to go there."

Above: Spectators enjoy both front and rear tracks views one "The Ridge."

And why should he? According to Powell, The Ridge is exceeding expectations. Once the facility opened for business earlier this year, 90% of available track dates were sold in five weeks. "We were optimistic," said Powell, "but we did not anticipate that kind of response. Now, a little over half way through the 2012 season, over half of the available 2013 dates are sold."

When asked what sanctioning body he likes working with best, Powell demurred, pointing out that all the organizations he has worked with over this past year have been great to deal with. When pressed he did allow that WMRRA runs a top notch club racing operation. "They just seem to be so focused and committed to their racing." He mused, "It shows in the way they conduct their business. They are a real pleasure to work with."

Clearly the feeling is mutual from Tim O’Mahoney’s perspective. "I love working with Tracie (Brandenburg) and Jason (Fioritto, manager and owner respectively of Pacific Raceways), but Rod has taken track management to the highest level in terms of being hands-on and responsive."

In terms of moto-sport spectating, times are good in the Puget Sound. We’ve got two quality motorsports facilities. Now if we could only attract a pro-level superbike event …

Dave Freiboth is a long time race fan and vintage bike enthusiasts who has contributed numerous articles to various publications over the years.

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