Defending champion Mark Wauge will make his 2008 debut at Southern Oregon Speedway on Saturday.

Speedway set to open Saturday

Change is afoot once again at the Southern Oregon Speedway.

Now, if only Mother Nature would get with the program.

Already postponed one week due to rain and wet track conditions, the quarter-mile oval clay track in White City is set to open, weather pending, on Saturday. Gates open at 4 p.m., with racing starting at 6 p.m. General admission is $12, cost for seniors is $10 and kids under nine can enter free of charge.

Saturday's racing will feature the debut of late models as a class at the Southern Oregon Speedway.

The late models, now one of seven classes racing on Saturdays at the speedway, will run at nine events this year, concluding with the Roger Lorenzini Sr. Memorial/Bud Cup 100 on Sept. 27.

"We're pretty excited to have them," said Valerie Rapp, who, along with her husband Rick, took over day-to-day and race-night operations at the speedway from John Skinner last year. Skinner had been running the track since it opened in 1996.

Also set to run this Saturday will be the modifieds, pro stocks, super 4's and dwarf cars classes. Sprint cars and mini stocks are scheduled to debut on May 3.

The late models class harkens back to the days of racing action at the old Posse Grounds on Sage Road in Medford. The late models feature wider, softer tires and more horse power than the modifieds, the speedway's most popular class.

"They're exciting as hell to watch," said Skinner, who will race a modified car again this season. "They're a throwback to the old days."

Skinner estimates there are nine such cars in the area, with many of the competitors most likely coming in from Northern California.

There will be other additions to the race-night as well.

A pace truck will be added and a rule change will replace the yellow flag following an accident during a race, which should lead to less confusion, said Valerie Rapp.

"We are going to revert back to last completed lap," Valerie Rapp said. "I think it will correct some of the accident issues we have had, which has been kind of a continuing problem. We don't like to have another accident because somebody did not see the yellow. We're hoping it will help keep the drivers safe and the equipment safe."

The Rapps will also bring back Eric Bray as pit steward. The 31-year-old Bray, himself a former modifieds' points champion, took to the position last year and was excited to tackle the challenge once again this season.

"Boy, I did enjoy it," Bray said. "I'm hoping to come back, grow and get better and keep putting on a good show."

Bray's duties as pit steward include a little bit of everything, he said. Bray will assist in lining up cars at the start of the race, getting the lineups on the board and, "basically just make sure everything runs smoothly," Bray said.

The feedback from last season was positive, said both the Rapps and Bray.

"It was quite a learning experience," said Valerie Rapp of their first year running the speedway. "We've had a lot of people come up to us and say how great things went."

Skinner, meanwhile, will use his spare time running a car in the modified class.

"The week-to-week thing at this point in my life was just too much," said Skinner, who will once again promote the Lon Skinner Memorial, a $10,000-to-win modified race in September in honor of his late father. "I think (the Rapps) did a good job running things last year."

The Rapps have made some adjustments to the track.

A new clay surface was put down on the front stretch and a new water system, that will use irrigation water rather than city water, was installed with the help of Pacific Pipeline.

But while there have been some tweaks to the track, the competitors remain much the same.

Modified points champion Mark Wauge is set to return to defend his title, while other points champions Randy Rodgers (sprint car), Frank Word III (pro stocks), Jeff Harsha (dwarf car) and Jim Pope (mini stock) will once again get behind the wheel.

Last year's super 4 winner Jacob Cole, however, will race modifieds this season, leaving the door open to a new champion.

Reach reporter Kevin Goff at 776-4483, or e-mail

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