A lot has gone on at Pacific Raceways since the NHRA was here last there in 2019. So fans have noticed and felt the differences at this Flav-R-Pac Northwest Nationals. Most noticeable are the new garages, which represent Phase I of a technology campus vision that track owner-president Jason Fiorito has orchestrated to keep the legendary racetrack resistant to urban encroachment and tempting offers to sell. 

That has resulted in a few inconveniences for fans, many of whom have complained about changes to their parking habits and the fact that Friday racing offers just one qualifying run rather than the traditional two. The NHRA instituted the latter practice in 2020 – but fans here missed out on a 2020 race and a 2021 event because of pandemic restrictions. 

Fiorito said he understands the bother but also understands that something had to be sacrificed if Pacific Raceways is to survive and buck the trend of racetracks folding.    

“My issue with this weekend is a messaging problem to my fans who have been so supportive of this sport for the 21 years I've been running the event,” he said Saturday. “And we've always, first and foremost, wanted to provide the opportunity for the fans to participate in the event. But more than that, I want to give them a great experience from the time they get here until the time they leave. 

“We have some challenges this year, and most of it surrounds parking. Because we're in the middle of the redevelopment process for the track, we have the first 80,000 square feet of commercial development up, and we are actively regrading the field on which they normally park. So we extensively revamped our parking on the property to provide about as many acres as we've ever had. But the challenge is that because that main parking field is an active construction site and an active extraction site, most of it is not available and what is available is on an active construction site. So it's not ideal,” he said. 

“The message we're trying to get across is that the excavation and subsequent gravel sales and the development of that site as a commercial building site is the reason we're still a racetrack,” Fiorito said. “As the underlying land value has increased over time and other tracks in other regions have succumbed to the increase in the underlying land value, we've made an attempt to cohabitate with a commercial development that feeds off the racetracks and allows us to develop the property commercially while maintaining the racing surfaces for events like this.” 

He said he has discovered that listening to and empathizing with the fans’ concerns has paid off with their understanding, in turn. 

Fiorito said, “I communicated with a gentleman last night via email who was really upset with me because they paid $20 to park in a gravel lot that was challenging for them. , and I understand the frustration of our site not meeting the expectations when they pull in, but after telling him that that gravel extraction and the associated commercial development was the reason we still had a race here and the racetrack was still in existence, he became pretty understanding of the challenges of coming to, viewing and getting out of the race. 

“So my main message to my customers,” he said, “is, No. 1, I'm grateful for the loyal support they've given the track and the sport over the years, and I'm grateful for the understanding as we get through the development process that really is going to be the sustainability and the lifeblood of this track continuing to exist in a major metropolitan area.” He said he’s hoping “we can just get through this year, together, collaboratively, with some understanding of the challenges that everybody is going through in a post-COVID existence when it's hard to find employees to show up.” 

That’s another concern Fiorito has been facing this weekend. 

“One of the things we have challenges with is parking, traffic control, and ticketing folks committing to be here. Then you get here at six in the morning and half the people you had signed up to work didn't show up. And that's a climate in which the restaurants, the hospitality, and the racing industry are living in today. Simply because you have somebody scheduled doesn't mean you're going to have that many people show up,” he said. “So instead of having eight ticketing windows open yesterday, we only had staff for four. That requires people to wait a little longer in line. 

“So they waited a little longer to get into the facility. They parked in an area that wasn't a beautiful grass field, and they waited a little longer to buy a ticket. I called in all my favors with the local construction group and got myself, instead of cops, to bring folks in, I have off-duty construction flaggers working the exits today,” Fiorito said. 

“So we try to get creative. We try to put out fires as we can. We try to provide the best experience for our customers, and we try to build a system that adds sustainability to the track and the sport we love so much,” he said.

He fashioned four shuttle trailers this year to accommodate patrons who have had to park farther away this year. Local dealership Jet Chevrolet has loaned the track pick-up truck, and they are pulling benches bolted onto a surface. Fiorito said, “We are getting creative with opening up new areas to park, and as they develop farther and farther away from the racing surface, we're implementing systems that can give rides to our customers to lessen the impact and mitigate the discomfort. We have that going on now.”

In the future, with additional phases of the tech campus occupying even more of a footprint close to the racetrack, he already has started thinking about what he will need to provide for subsequent races.

“There may be some offsite parking with shuttles. There may be improved shuttle services on the property, improved parking on the property, developing new areas that serve dual purposes. We may take over the karting track in the future as additional parking,” Fiorito said. “So we're just working with our on-site and off-site partners to make sure that we continue to have the availability, the shuttle service, the capacity, and the accessibility that we need to provide our customers in the long run. 

“There are going to be some bumps along the way,” he said, “but we just ask for a little bit of understanding, kind of ‘Excuse our dust while we provide you a world-class racing facility’ sort of mentality.”

“When you're used to parking in a nice grass field close to the track and you're told you're going to park in a gravel field farther away from the track, you're understandably upset. And that's the messaging that I'm trying to get across,” he said. “If it's explained to them that, No. 1, that development is keeping the track viable and sustainable, and No. 2, we've made every effort to provide the accessibility and the mitigation to get them in and out of here as quickly as possible, there is some understanding. But I do need to get the message out there, because people do want an explanation of what is going on and why.”