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LA PLATA — This weekend, the otherwise slow pace in this farming community just south of the Colorado border is about to get a lot faster.

On Saturday, the La Plata Valley Raceway, a 300-foot race track started by Steve Jackson and Justin Nickles, will open for the start of its first sand-drag season.

The dirt raceway — located on 20 acres and set against the La Plata River on Nickles' father's 400-acre alfalfa farm — offers drivers in classes ranging from junior to pro brackets the chance to rev their engines up to 5,500 rpm and burn rubber at speeds topping 100 mph.

"It's stupid fast," Jackson said.

Nickles said races last an average of three seconds. Two drivers line up side by side on an 80-foot-wide track, racing down a straight line and against the clock, where fractions of a second are the difference between winning and losing.

Nickles said the track is the only one of its kind that remains in New Mexico. He said Charlie Fegan, a former world champion racer and owner of Sandia Speedway in Albuquerque, closed his sand-drag racetrack at the end of last year's season. Fegan's speedway complex, however, still holds races on other tracks that feature surfaces such as asphalt and clay.

Nickles, who started Conspiracy Racing as an engine-building business in the late 1980s, said it evolved over the years into a racing team that he and Jackson and approximately eight other racers belong to and represent at races each year. When Fegan closed his sand track, Nickles and Jackson bought Fegan's timing system and decided to open their own track.

"We got a wild hair one day and said, 'Let's build a track,'" Nickles said.

His passion for hot rods and racing started as a teenager, Nickles said.

"One time this guy in a 1966 GTO was beating the cops, burning up the road," he said. "He went by our place and — whoom! — went the sound. And I thought, 'I want to be part of that.'"

Twenty years ago, he met Jackson, a retired sergeant with the San Juan County Sheriff's Office, when he came to Nickles' business to ask him to build a modified engine.

"Justin wasn't sure about racing on sand. He told me that he wouldn't ever let one of his cars on dirt," Jackson said. "Then I showed him. And he was hooked from there."

Jackson's sand-drag racing car looks like a typical drag racing car, with one major difference — the tires.

"They're tires, regular racing slicks, with a 120-inch wheel base with paddles added on (for traction)," Jackson said.

Jackson, who won't be racing this season because of a broken femur he sustained after being thrown from a spooked horse, normally races in his signature car. Called the NAS-T 900, it's an altered race car with a 1923 Ford Model-T race car body, modified Chevrolet engine and transmission and a dragster-style "butterfly" steering wheel, which is designed for straightaway races.

Jackson said racing on the earthen track, once it is raked and watered, is "just like glass."

The venue will also host mud racing during the regular season, holding an average of two racing days a month with national sand-drag events and a Governor's Cup race in September.

"We're going to be the top-notch venue in the Four Corners," Nickles said. "We're centrally located. We're 14 miles to Aztec, 32 miles to Durango, 60 to Cortez, with people coming in to race from all over."

Both Nickles and Jackson said Saturday's event is family-friendly, with door prizes, music and a full concession stand.

"The cars, the chrome, the track, the adrenaline — it's a lifestyle," Nickles said. "A lot of people are going to love it. It's just that good."

James Fenton is the business editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4621 and jfenton@daily-times.com. Follow him @fentondt on Twitter.

IF YOU GO


What: Grand opening race day at La Plata Valley Raceway

When: Gates open at 8 a.m. Qualifying at noon. Races all afternoon.

Where: La Plata Valley Raceway, 1400 N.M. Highway 170 (La Plata Highway) at the 14-mile marker

Cost: $12 for adults, $8 for ages 5-12 and ages 4 and younger are free
More info: Call 505-215-2793 or 505-793-3382 or go online to the raceway's Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/LaPlataValleyRaceway/info?tab=page_info
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