Hammers leading the revival of Millstream Speedway

Randy and Lisa Hammer. (Image courtesy of Rex LeJeune)
Randy and Lisa Hammer. (Image courtesy of Rex LeJeune)

By T.J. Buffenbarger

This Sunday UNOH All Star Circuit of Champions will visit Millstream Speedway in Findlay, Ohio for the second time this season. 20 years ago an All Star visit to Millstream would be a normal thing, but for most of the past 20 years except for some short stints of operation Millstream has remained devoid of racing action. For the first time since 2010 that has changed with Randy and Lisa Hammer signing a lease agreement to operate the Speedway in 2014. One year later Millstream has held two events leading into Sunday’s second visit with the All Stars.

With a track that has been dormant for years minus a couple of different start up attempts that were unsuccessful, many have wondered why the Hammer’s would take on such a challenge? There are more than one reason for the former driver and team owner along with his wife Lisa, who is also known for her contribution to WFIN’s Racing World radio show with host Dwight Allen, to do so.

“We had a race team for about 25 years and this was a different side of the fence. Short of getting older, it’s a little harder for me. I told my wife that I don’t miss the late night car washes with the race team,” said Randy. “We have a huge passion for racing and we saw this track sitting there capable of holding races, and nobody has been able to make that happen. We thought with our reputation in the racing world and our passion we could make it work.”

Looking to shift their involvement in racing talks began with Millstream track owners Greg and Mary Beth Roe several years ago. The negotiations took nearly a year to complete before the Roe’s and Hammer’s agreed on a lease.

“We actually had our first meeting with the property owners in November of 2013. It was over a year, year and a half process.” Said Hammer.

Once the agreement was signed there was plenty of work to be done to return the facility to race ready condition. Some of the cleanup was under estimated by Hammer and his staff. While many pushed for the Hammer’s to open the facility as soon as possible, they insisted on having things up to their standards before opening the gates for the first time under their management.

“The track had become a bit of a dump site, It took us a lot longer to do than I anticipated” said Hammer. “There were times I had 3-4 operators there and it took four or five of us there for seven or eight weeks to get the parking lot cleaned up. I promised myself and the racing community there that I would not hold any events (at Millstream) until you drove down county road 95 and could see someone was doing something there. “

Once the facility was cleaned up the Hammer’s also had the daunting job of promoting a racing facility for the first time. Even though Randy has been involved in racing most of his life, there were a lot of things even he didn’t realize needed to happen when operating a racing facility, being quick to praise other veteran promoters in the area.”

“Hats off to these guys that are doing it, because I’ve been around racing for a long time and thought I knew a lot of this,” said Hammer. “We’re green getting into this, but we’re learning in a hurry. We knew some of the things to put into place, but all of the little things you need to do with a track are unbelievable.”

The challenges were multiplied by Millstream’s first three events being rained out. Despite the struggle with Mother Nature the two events held so far this season have Hammer optimistic for the future.

“I think everything has gone really well,” said Hammer. “It was pretty disappointing to put that much time and effort into to try and be ready and watch it rain. I was glad it rained that hard when it did because it made it easy to make the decision to cancel. The couple of events we have gotten in have been good. We learned a lot for sure, and we’re learning every day. Being (at Knoxville) this week and talking (other promoters) teaches us a lot of things. It’s a learning curve, just like learning to drive a sprint car, and it just takes time.”

Fans hillside at Millstream Speedway.
Fans hillside at Millstream Speedway.

The turning point in all of that hard work for Hammer was getting that first race in the books. Despite Mother Nature winning the three previous attempts Millstream Speedway officially reopened on July 5th, 2015 with the All Stars as the headliner.

“Having the first show. After going weeks and weeks getting ready and getting rained out, to have that first show was big, said Hammer. “When you are on that promoter side you are constantly looking up in the stands at how many people you have making sure you can get the bills paid, but when you look up at the end of the night and see it pretty full and know that you have done that. Giving the opportunity for people to come back there and witness (racing at Millstream) again was the biggest thing.”

Randy believes the overcoming some of the instability in the track’s recent history is starting to turn around as well.

“I think we are on the right track. The city of Findlay is very excited about what is going on there. I think it’s going to take a year or two it will get better, we can see it shifting.”

One advantage Hammer has with Millstream is a track that does have a rich racing history in a community that embraces racing. While some tracks that have sat dormant with nice housing developments around it would be likely to never open again, Hammer says his neighbors are embracing the renaissance of Millstream.

“The neighborhood is growing with some nice homes being built. People have asked if I’ve had problems with the neighbors and what not. All I can tell them is we have cleaned the place up and our neighbors are behind us so far. “My wife Lisa is huge on history. She’s big on preserving the past. There is a lot of history here, but we would like that to continue with what’s there now.”

While countless series and drivers have competed at Millstream over its history, it is probably best known for its events with the All Star Circuit of Champions. Sunday’s return of the series for a second time still creates some buzz in the Findlay market, but Hammer hopes to ramp that excitement up over the next couple of years.

“I hope we can get back to that point if given the chance. It was great when Tony took over (the All Stars) and has the resources to make it better. I think we have excitement with the All Stars coming (to Millstream),” said Hammer. “ We had a great show the first time they came this year, but give us another year or two and we can really grow this to be as big as it was in the past.

With things going well many are asking when Millstream might return to Ohio Sprint Speedweek? If things continue to go as planned Hammer hopes a return of what used to be the biggest race of the year at Millstream might come back sooner than later.

Kids at Millstream Speedway.
Kids at Millstream Speedway.

“I hope next year. I knew this year with what was going on and things already in place. People came to me disappointed, but we didn’t even talk about having (an Ohio Speedweek Show) this year. I was okay with that. I’m a business person and know how that all works. I’ll be disappointed another year if I don’t get one, but however it works out we will take it in stride.”

With the first season as promoter of Millstream Speedway winding down where does Hammer see the track three years from now? At the moment Hammer wants to return Millstream to one of the major players in the area when it comes to the 410 sprint car division. While a return to weekly racing might be part of that plan, as of now it appears there will be select events only in Millstreams future.

“I’ve told people there are basically five tracks that run 410 sprint cars. We have not really proven ourselves yet. Another year or two I hope to be one of the players in that mix of things, said Hammer. “I’m a business person first and I’m not sure if I ever want to go to a weekly program. Not saying it couldn’t be a possibility, but right now I think we need to be a special event place. We have talked about doing other things outside of racing there. Racing is our main scope there, but probably just stay a special events track.”