Christopher Bell helped install the finishing touches on the tornado repair of his hometown dirt track
Christopher Bell turned turned his very first laps in a race car around I-44 Riverside Speedway. The track is a 1/5-mile dirt track that sits just outside of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
In 2013, an EF5 tornado rolled through town. It took out the race track and the home of the race promoters in the same breath.
I-44 Riverside Speedway: Tornado
“A huge tornado came through and center punched this race track. It was pretty much destroyed. They had to rebuild it from nothing,” Christopher Bell recalled the events.
Just moments ahead of the tornado, track promoter Mark Banister was on the complex. He left and in a matter of minutes, the track was destroyed.
“It was interesting. It looked like just an average thunderstorm coming up. No big deal, ” track owner Mark Banister stated.
“I need to go into town and get some parts. So, I left. About 15 minutes later the tornado hit. The fence was all down. All the trees were uprooted. Everything was gone,” Banister concluded.
“It looked like a mangled mess. The place that you grew up racing, you never want to see it go away,” Bell commented.
Christopher Bell: I-44 Riverside Speedway
Five years later, Christopher Bell has made it to NASCAR. He’s gathered the help of Toyota to put the final touches on the repairs.
“This is the place that I got my first ever laps in a race car. And where I grew up racing for the first part of my life.”
“Whenever I started coming here for the first time, I remember going into the grandstands. I’d always sit at the very top. I’d watch every race until the final checkered flag dropped on the night.”
“It’s really cool to come back here and bring back those memories of growing up as a kid racing at this race track.”
“It was just missing something. Everyone in the pits, they didn’t have a place to watch the races from.”
The tornado wiped out the pit bleachers back in 2013.
I-44 Riverside Speedway: Rebuild
The track has been rebuilt since that 2013 tornado. It hosted racing events in the middle of the summer 2014. Barely over a half year since the tornado touched the ground.
Today, it looks better than ever from top to bottom. But, as of 2018 the repairs still weren’t 100% complete.
For the last few years, the track has been operating without and grandstands for the pit area. Typically, most tracks will have an open seating area dedicated to people that walk the pits, work on the cars and come to support their driver.
Back in October, Toyota came in to help. They donated money to put up brand new bleachers for the pit area. A concrete slab was laid and brand new aluminum bleachers were installed.
“They did it right. There racers love that we’re finally getting stands in for them,” Banister said.
“These pit bleachers have really been the last step to getting this place back to where it was before the tornado,” Bell stated.
I-44 Speedway: Complete
That’s what the track looks today. The debris is gone and the shine has returned. It has a few holes in the catch fence. But, I challenge you to find a short track without that. It’s open for business, full of character and has the story to go with it.
“I have a lot of childhood memories here. It makes me really happy to see people giving back to the community. To give a kid like me, another chance to maybe become a NASCAR driver,” Bell concluded.
“It’s imperative that these local tracks stay open. The kids that are 6-8 years old that are racing here now, may be the next Christopher Bell,” Mark Banister stated.
Bell has been back to the track many times. He won there back in March in the Turnpike Challenge event.