Race Weekend Central

Could Kern Raceway Host Cup?

Located about 110 miles from the L.A. Memorial Coliseum — host of the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum — Kevin Harvick’s Kern Raceway will host the next ARCA Menards Series West race. The 0.5-mile short track, previously known as Kern County Raceway Park, has hosted 13 West events.

With the end of the Coliseum’s contract as the venue for the Clash and the closure of Auto Club Speedway, could NASCAR move its California NASCAR Cup Series event — be it an exhibition or points-paying — to Kern?

In short, it is a possibility in the future, but the facility is not ready to host Cup yet.

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“There would have to be some additional infrastructure put in,” ARCA Menards Series East and West series director Chris Wright told Frontstretch. “Can it over the long haul? Kern, to me, and Dominion Raceway in Virginia are the two most current cutting-edge, as far as most recent-built, tracks. There is an opportunity there but it would take additional infrastructure beyond what it has today.”

For new track owner Tim Huddleston, he and his track partner Kevin Harvick both have Kern hosting a NASCAR national series event on their wish list.

“That would be Kevin and I’s dream to be able to do that someday,” Huddleston told Frontstretch. “It’s an amazing facility and it has the bones to do it. So, we’ll see.”

In his first year of ownership, Huddleston is upgrading track facilities, both big and small changes.

“It is already happening today,” he said. “We have improved our fencing on the property, we’ve got brand-new parking lots being put in and paved almost every inch of the spectator parking. Just expanding our kitchen; yes, we’re already working on it.”

Safety is a priority in NASCAR, especially SAFER barriers. The Coliseum had temporary ones installed. Kern does not have any permanent SAFER barriers but if NASCAR mandated the track have those for an event, those could be added.

“It has the room for it,” Huddleston noted. “Meaning by the turns, you don’t run that close to the wall. And there is plenty of room to be able to add a SAFER barrier and not affect the line of the racetrack, which is cool.”

With 36 chartered entries in Cup, that’s 36 teams that would need space in the infield. Not to worry though, as Huddleston stated there were 68 teams in the infield for the racetrack’s opening night in 2024.

NASCAR wants to continue racing in California. It has held discussions about holding a race at the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball stadium Dodger Stadium.

Kern stands out as a top-notch facility though. It currently has seating for 6,000, but temporary seating can be added to reach a maximum capacity of 17,000, Huddleston confirmed.

“As a personal thought on it, they have a reasonable amount of suites which obviously is important at every level of racing,” Wright added. “They can add additional seating. And the layout of the racetrack reminds me of Richmond Raceway and other ways that it reminds me of Iowa Speedway. And that’s from a former competitor’s standpoint.

“I think the area that it’s located in, the proximity of it, there is a lot of available parking. And it’s not in a massive population to where easy in, easy out to the facility from a race fan’s standpoint as well as a competitor trying to get a big hauler out of there. It’s got a lot of things that can be utilized and be beneficial.”

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Full disclosure, Wright is not involved with the NASCAR national series nor knowledgeable about those series’ future schedules. Simultaneously, as the ARCA East and West series director, he has visited, among others, Iowa, Sonoma Raceway and Dover Motor Speedway – all racetracks on the 2024 Cup schedule. His judgment on whether a track is suitable for NASCAR is reputable.

“There’s no doubt it could house a national series event but there’s no doubt it’s going to take some time and effort to bring the facility to a place where it could handle the magnitude of race fans, race teams and all the auxiliary things that go with putting on a national series event,” he continued. “There’s a lot of infrastructure that must be considered but the opportunity is there if they put in the effort to get there.

“I think that Kern would put on a very good race. Historically we’ve had very good competitive races there with the West series and I would expect the race next week to be very similar to that. There are a lot of possibilities for that racetrack to host a national series event, as well as other ones too.”

Hypothetically pitching the racetrack to NASCAR, Huddleston said the racetrack’s location is ideal for race fans and becoming a highlight for the community.

“It’s three hours from darn near everybody in the state of California,” he added. “Three and a half hours to Frisco (San Francisco), three and a half hours to Sacramento, two and a half to L.A., three and a half to San Diego. It is literally smackdab easy for people to get there. And the community of Bakersfield and Kern County has been more than welcoming to us. And we’ve received tons of outreach and support. It’s amazing.”

Of course, having Harvick’s name in the official track name helps. Harvick did not solely lend his name to the track, however.

“I’m telling you, 1,000% improvement just having Kevin involved,” Huddleston continued. “Not to mention the true vision and passion that he has being our partner. It’s literally like no other; we could not have asked for a better situation. On a daily basis, Kevin is involved in almost every decision we make, what we do and how we do it. Huge impact.”

Even if Kern is not on the 2025 NASCAR national series schedules — don’t bet on it — Kern continues to rise as a top-tier short track thanks to the vision of its leadership.

“Kevin is the racer’s racer,” Huddleston noted. “He wants to give back to the racing community and help it be strong and healthy in the future. Whether it be racing events and how do we make them cool or what do we got to do to bring car count back up or sponsorship. Who do we have to get involved to give us vitamin B to keep it all going? Kevin has a strategic mind when it comes to trying to help local racing; whether it’s lending him or his name or any of that, he has been above and beyond helpful.”

Hosting the bookends to the inaugural zMAX CARS Tour Pro Late Model Series West season as well as continuing to host the ARCA West series — twice the series will visit Kern in 2024 — matters to Huddleston.

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“It’s number one,” he said. “Not only am I a fan first, but we also are competitors in both those divisions. For us, it is imperative to have them at the racetrack. It’s what legitimizes it as a top-level short track.”

Harvick is one of the co-owners of the CARS Tour so the series visiting Kern is a natural fit.

If Kern makes it someday onto the NASCAR national series schedules, much of that will be credited to Harvick, whom Huddleston continually praised throughout the interview.

“The first thing Kevin said when I called him on that very first day was, ‘If I’m going to be involved, I want to be involved,’” Huddleston recalled. “And I said, ‘That’s why we called,’ because we wanted him to be involved. It’s amazing, I’m telling you. He’s absolutely even nicer than when you see him on TV. That is Kevin. He is the real deal just as cool as you can be. We talk almost every day. Kevin and I raced each other in 1992 at Mesa Marin Raceway. So we’ve known each other for a long time. Plus, Cole Custer was one of our development drivers for years so we would often hang out at the track and talk with Kevin.

“When I called Kevin, it was August of last year, I said, ‘Hey Kevin, I have the ability to get Kern County Raceway,’ he stopped me and said, ‘I’m in. What do you want to do?’ He didn’t ask what we needed, he said he was in, and that’s the way that it has been ever since.”

For the foreseeable future, Kern will be on the ARCA West and CARS West schedules. The goal is to make those events premier ones for both circuits.

“It would be very shocking to me if Kern wasn’t a conversation piece for years down the road,” Wright concluded. “The family who built the facility, they had a tremendous amount of forward-thinking in growing that racetrack. It’s a larger facility than some of the other racetracks in the West. It’s a place where all the teams enjoy going to race, it’s wide, it’s got plenty of area to race without having just to rough each other up.”

Harvick went from racing a Cup car to announcing its events for FOX. Still, the 48-year-old Bakersfield native made a lone start in his own Kevin Harvick Inc. equipment in a zMax CARS Late Model Stock Car race in 2023. In addition to co-owning the CARS Tour, he owns a team too. Will he race one of his racecars in his co-owned series at his racetrack, Kern?

“That’s the goal,” Huddleston said.

About the author

Mark Kristl joined Frontstretch at the beginning of the 2019 NASCAR season. He is the site's ARCA Menards Series editor. Kristl is also an Eagle Scout and a proud University of Dayton alum.

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Bruce Smith

NASCAR needs to do this. This is a really great short track, one of the best in the country. It needs more stands and improvements for a Cup race but Tim and Kevin have the means to do whatever it takes.

Echo

Bakersfield, Fresno, Kern county, all that hwy 99 corridor is known as the armpit of CA. It has to be one of the most foolish places to ever think of having a Nascar race. It is not a good area one bit. Harvick grew up there. Close to death valley.

Drew

That’s probably up to NASCAR whether or not they will come to kern county raceway.

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