BARK RIVER - With near perfect weather and a stacked field including some of the world's top short course off-road racers, the 2011 Traxxas TORC Series, presented by AMSOIL, event at Bark River Raceway wound up in the record books as the highest-attended two-day event in the history of the central U.P.'s premier off-road race facility.
More than 13,000 fans packed the grandstands and hillside of the Bark River course - many of which came from outside the Delta County area. According to the Delta Chamber of Commerce, numbers were up across the board in nearby Escanaba, from grocery stores and gas/convenience stations, to hotels and restaurants.
"We are delighted with the record-breaking turnout and great opportunity to share Delta County with so many visitors," said Vickie Micheau, executive director of the Delta County Chamber of Commerce. "The Bark River Lions have worked hard to put on a world-class event, and we are proud to have them in our community."
Steve Masters, executive director of the Bays de Noc Convention and Visitor's Bureau, who helped sponsor the event, also expressed his excitement with the turnout.
"We love the Bark River Lions and the off-road races!" he said. "My lodging members were excited to see all the heads in beds during the event, and as always, it was well-run. Everyone has a great time out there."
According to organizers, a good litmus test for attendance at the Bark River TORC off-road event - or any motorsports event - is beer sales. According to Andy Johnson at Johnson Distributing, TORC off-road fans at Bark River consumed 142 kegs (half barrels) of beer this past weekend just a few kegs shy of the record. And that record would have been broken, according to Bark River Raceway official Scott Kwarciany, had Bark River not introduced some other alcoholic beverage options this year.
"Overall it's just great to see the hotels all booked up, restaurants and local businesses all doing well this past weekend the Bark River off-road event continues to be a favored summer destination of so many people from outside the area," said Johnson. "We're looking at the orders we brought up there (to Bark River Raceway) and our numbers look to be up 50-percent over last year."
At Elmer's Country Market, 412 North Lincoln Road, Escanaba, Ron Stende said the promotional breakfast they put on for the fans, teams and drivers attending the TORC/Bark River event was the biggest they'd ever hosted.
"The Bark River event makes for quite a weekend here," said Stende, whose free breakfast featured the local Beauchamp brothers' racing trucks and drew more than 300 people a record for Elmer's Country Market. "And our walk-in beer cooler got quite a workout!"
With many of the teams, race officials and persons who traveled moderate distances to reach the TORC/Bark River event, hotels in Escanaba definitely felt an uptick in rooms being rented. Those living closer to Delta County opted for camping at Bark River Raceway, which according to Bark River officials also set a record for the number of sites rented.
"A while back we'd purchased an additional 40 acres of land and developed much of it for camping. We never thought we'd see the day where we filled that up until last weekend when we nearly did," said Kwarciany. "We filled more than 800 sites, 80-percent of which were presold. Our food service personnel reported that this was, by far, the busiest year they've ever seen as well."
And from a security standpoint, Kwarciany said that only a couple "minor" issues had to be addressed.
Local business owner Dan Hackleman, Ernie's Irish Pub, 1322 Ludington St., Escanaba, summed the TORC/Bark River off-road event up best by saying: "It's definitely huge for the area, for sure. It puts a lot of people into our town that normally wouldn't come here. So they get to see what we've done to improve the downtown business area, the waterfront and other places in and around Escanaba that make this such a gorgeous area. And they'll look forward to coming back next year."
Asked if he was able to attend the race, Hackleman laughed and added: "I couldn't - 90 percent of my staff was there this weekend!"
For more information on the Traxxas TORC Series, presented by AMSOIL, visit www.torcseries.com.
For information on Bark River Raceway, log on to www.upoffroad100.com.