When Traci Hobbs and her husband, Doug, took over as promoters of Washington’s Evergreen Speedway 10 years ago, they inherited keys to the gates and office, and nothing else.
Hobbs said they didn’t have a single file folder or any information. She said the first year was like “drinking from a fire hose.”
“I don’t want to say I cried every single weekend the first year, but I think I cried every single weekend the first year,” Hobbs said. “There was such a steep learning curve and there were so many areas that needed our attention that the first two years were really tough.
“Now, looking back, I’m very proud of how far we’ve come.”
Hobbs didn’t come from a racing background when she took over the track. Having graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in advertising, she spent much of what she called her “first career” selling media and TV advertising.
She was also a radio rep for Evergreen Speedway under the previous owners, and had done promotions with them, but “I didn’t know really much about racing at all,” she said.
Doug was a local car dealer, and had worked behind the scenes at Evergreen, sponsoring cars and classes for more than 20 years, and Hobbs said it had always been his dream to the buy the racetrack. The couple got married in 2011, and the same year they put in a business plan bid for Snohomish County, Washington when Evergreen was put up for bid for a long-term contract with the county, which owns the land the NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series track sits on.
“We met through our work, ended up getting engaged and applied to take over the racetrack,” she said. “I left my job, he left his job, and we started our own company and took over Evergreen Speedway.”
Evergreen sits on 71 acres of land, and features a .625-mile outer oval, and two smaller inner ovals, as well as a drag strip, figure 8 track, and .750-mile road course. It is the only NASCAR-sanctioned weekly track in the state of Washington.
The track is located in Monroe, Washington, and sits 30 miles northwest of Seattle.
While other bidders at the time had deeper backgrounds in racing, Hobbs said she and her husband used their business and sales background to seal the deal with the County.
There was definitely a learning curve in the racing side for Hobbs, though.
“I didn’t know the difference between the mini stocks and the super late model when I took over,” she said. “There was a lot about racing I didn’t know.”
What she did know, though, was about sponsorship and how to bring in money. Hobbs said she spent most of the first two years trying to get sponsors. This was in 2011, right after the recession, and she said at the time, “there were no drivers, hardly any fans, and very few sponsors.”
It took a couple of years to get caught up, but Hobbs focused on “inviting sponsors to the party,” she said, as well as applying for grants, and looking at the customer service side of the track.
“It could be drivers at the back gate, or customers at the front gate, we wanted to get that concierge service because the track didn’t really have the best reputation,” she said. “Evergreen was a power house in the ‘80s and ‘90s. It was larger than life. But in the early 2000s, that’s when things started to go downhill, so I was more focused on bringing sponsors, bringing groups, reaching out into the local community, making contacts, establishing ties, and bringing people to the party.”
As far as the real operations and technical side of the sport, Hobbs said she learned that on the job, and has since fallen in love with racing.
“Now, I know all the little nuances about shocks and stagger on tires and all the minutia that goes into racing, and there’s an awful lot of it,” she said.
“There isn’t a better feeling in the world than looking at the grandstands and seeing a full-packed house… and you don’t just open the doors and everybody comes. It’s a lot of work in maintaining relationships and promoting. It doesn’t happen easily, but boy, I tell you, when the super late models get all raring to go and they come down the front stretch as soon as the green flag waves and the cars go speeding by, that’s just such a thrill for me.”
The first couple of years were difficult, but Hobbs said it’s night and day now from where they started. They went through more than 3,000 gallons of paint making the track look nice, and she said in their top year they’ve also brought in over half a million dollars in sponsorship money.
Hobbs said Doug has also been the brains behind making the track relevant locally, regionally, and nationally. Three times in 10 years they’ve been in the top-10 NASCAR tracks for membership, and they’ve focused on bringing regional and even national races to Washington.
“The facility looks 100 percent different, and people can see that,” Hobbs said “But I’d say it’s more in terms of the number of drivers we’ve attracted, the series we’ve attracted, and certainly the fans. The fans have come back again.”
And the work is never over. Hobbs said they’re constantly trying to continue making improvements. They recently repaved the pits and small track, and they’re working on repaving the bigger oval track as well.
Even though taking over a track with no experience and no help was tough, Hobbs said those first two years are a distant memory now. She doesn’t think about the tears anymore, but rather she looks back with pride at how far the track how come and how well she and her husband and everyone else involved hung in there through it all.
Evergreen will open the 2021 season on Saturday, with fans allowed to attend for the first time since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
“I love it. I get emotional the first opening night. It’s always very emotional for me,” Hobbs said. “I get so excited when the new season is about to start. I think a lot of it is the drivers. We have some driving families that have been around for three decades, or more than that. Where the second generation is now coming up from all these families.
“The support and dedication of the drivers and teams that they have to the sport and to the track, it’s very satisfying. They’ve become our family. Some of our fans are super fans. They are loyal, they come back year after year. I love those people. They’re our people. I’m very attached to the racing community and the fans.”