Latrobe Speedway under new management

| Friday, March 17, 2006

Joe Gombach spent the past five seasons running the tow truck and driving in the Charger class at Latrobe Speedway. When the track opens in May, he's going to be running the place.

Gombach, who operates a towing service and auto salvage business in Claridge, has signed a one-year lease with an option for a second year to operate the track, which suspended racing late last summer.

"I know I got into something that's going to be tough," Gombach said Thursday. "Especially when I get busy at work with the towing and auto salvage work. But I really think we can make it work.

"I raced there. I liked it. Nobody else would have taken it over and it would have just stayed closed up. I wanted to keep it going."

Chester Aretta had leased the half-mile dirt oval the previous five years, but aborted the 2005 season early and was not looking to try again in 2006.

"I really don't have any comment. It's a sore subject." Aretta said yesterday.

The 46-year-old Gombach thinks he knows what went wrong.

"The problem was, last year, they had a tire rule where everyone had to run the same kind of tire. It was a major complaint," he said. "Basically, people stopped coming. There were low car counts, no fans and the place basically folded up. People told me 'don't have a tire rule.'

"We're not going to have a tire rule."

Gombach has not finalized an opening day, although he's aiming for May, saying, "The sooner, the better."

The races will be run Sunday nights, beginning at 7 p.m. and feature a weekly lineup of Late Models, E-mods, Street Stocks, Chargers and 4-cylinders. He hopes to organize special shows, but because of his late start in planning, the details remain uncertain.

Gombach will try to drive an occasional race in the Charger class, but he's anticipating being too busy to make that a weekly occurrence.

There still is a significant amount of work to be done.

The racing surface needs attention. Concession equipment must be replaced. General maintenance must be performed.

"A lot of people say they'll come up and help clean up, cut weeds, all that," Gombach said. "It makes you feel good. We're talking a major amount of people -- race fans and drivers."

Gombach also has gotten donations of equipment and sponsorships to help get the operation up and running again.

The goal is to get roughly 100 cars a week and put an average of 1,000 fans in the stands.

"We're just going to take care of people like they want," Gombach said. "Treat everybody right."

Additional Information:

About the track

What: Latrobe Speedway, one-half mile semi-banked clay oval

Where: Route 981, Unity Township

History: Opened as Schmucker's Speedway in 1968. Re-opened after 19-year hiatus in 2001, as Latrobe Speedway. Suspended operations July 2005. Will re-open in May with a new promoter.

Races: 7 p.m. Sundays

Classes: Late Models, E-mods, Chargers, Street Stocks and 4-cylinders

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