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April 11, 2010

News & Features

Cheap thrills: local families can find thrifty fun at the racetrack

Special to NWautos

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Fans hang out in the grandstands or along the course during drag races at Pacific Raceways. (Jeff Layton)

Entertaining the family can get expensive. Consider this: a family of four can easily spend $200 at a Mariners game or $100 for dinner and a movie.

But a day at the races continues to be one of the best values around -- the entire family can still get a whole day of high-speed thrills for less than $30.

Cost for a family of four
  • (Includes admission and pit access; special events may cost more)
  • Drag racing: $25
  • Road racing: $28
  • Go-kart rental: $100

"It's a full day of entertainment that keeps the whole family on the edge of their seats," says Tracie Brandenburg, director of marketing and events at Pacific Raceways. "It's a fantastic way to enjoy the outdoors. Grab a blanket, pack a lunch, bring a cooler and enjoy the action."

The Puget Sound area has two tracks, both of which have been open since the 1950s. Pacific Raceways in Kent has drag racing, a road course and go-kart venues. Bremerton Raceway is a converted airstrip used for drag racing.

As spring kicks off another season of action, check out our primer on what to expect from the various types of racing.

Drag racing
The ear-splitting noise, blur of cars and smell of burnt rubber makes drag racing a full sensory experience. Two cars line up side-by-side on the quarter-mile straightaway and rip down the track in less time than it takes to bite into a corn dog.

Big events
  • Drag Racing

    May 9: 18th Annual Mother's Day Nationals, Bremerton Raceway

    June 18-20: NHRA National Open, Bremerton Raceway

    July 9-11: NHRA Northwest Nationals, Pacific Raceways
  • Road Racing
    July 2-4: SOVREN 22nd Annual Pacific Northwest Historics Races, Pacific Raceways
  • Karting
    June 25-27: NOS Energy Drink Road Course Challenge, Pacific Raceways

Some events feature funny cars (skinny cars with enormous rear tires), while others showcase amateur street cars or souped-up muscle cars. The action is fast, with heats every 30 seconds, and for spectators, the wide and wild variety of vehicles that compete makes for hours of entertainment.

It can be dangerously loud -- especially for young children -- so earplugs are a good idea.

Road racing
To see a finely tuned high-performance car ride the perfect corner is to watch a thing of beauty. And Pacific Raceways' 2.25-mile course is the best place in Western Washington to see vehicles tackle the track.

The course has a reputation for being one of the most challenging in the U.S. -- it winds through natural wooded terrain and features a 170-mph straightaway, sweeping curves and hairpin turns.

Depending on the event, you could find yourself watching motorcycles, stock cars, European sports cars or vintage autos. Expect to view heats running all day or all weekend long.

Fans can view the races from the grandstands on the straightaway or from the viewing terraces along the turns.

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Fans pack the grandstand at Pacific Raceways last spring. (Jeff Layton)

Karting
With a whir and a blur, tiny shapes zip by at more than 100 mph. Sitting 26 inches high, with miniature motors revving wildly, tiny go-karts look small but pack a big punch.

"Formula 1 drivers all got their starts in go-karts," says Joe Kitterman, a kart racer from Portland. The Northwest is one of the biggest centers for high-speed kart racing, he says.

While karting events are not as frequent as other types of racing, the go-karts' unique designs make them a crowd favorite. Plus, you could be watching the next rising star in the racing world.

Families can get in on the action by racing in commercial go-karts on the newly opened Pacific Grand Prix track adjacent to Pacific Raceways. Sessions last 12 minutes and feature 14 turns over the 0.8-mile course. Drivers must be 12 years old to participate.

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