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Berlin’s Left Turn Lounge a Destination for Racers, Fans

The Marne Michigan short track provides a total experience beyond the racing

Ally Ross Photography

It sounds cliché but Berlin Raceway is more than a short track; it’s a holistic experience.

No off-the-track amenity in short track racing is more reflective of those goals than the Left Turn Lounge. Located beneath the frontstretch suites, the entire concourse makes up the ‘Entertainment Complex’ portion of the Berlin Raceway and Entertainment Complex moniker.

The best modern short track experiences borrow a lot from minor league baseball in that the actual sporting contest is only part and parcel to the entire experience. The track has long passed the bathroom test, can host large groups or company gatherings, in addition to providing an inviting facility for the racers themselves.

That last part is important because, in addition to the local racing program, Berlin Raceway also hosts the ARCA Racing Series, Superstar Racing Experience, 500 Tour, ISMA Supermodifieds and two marquee Super Late Model races.

Regardless of what happens on the track, racers know they can always end their day at the lounge, an outdoor patio area defined by its brick fireplace, modern picnic tables and a fully stocked bar full of food and drinks. Directly across from the lounge is a fully functioning band stage with dynamic lighting and a modern sound system.

National Super Late Model star Bubba Pollard, half-jokingly says drivers don’t always like each other, but says the lounge has a way of making everyone friends when they race together at Berlin.

“We don’t usually like to hang out too much with each other, but that’s a great place,” Pollard said. “You know, I’ve made a lot of great friends along the way there, like Derek Griffith and their bunch, the past couple of times we’ve raced here.”

Pollard is notorious for spending race weekends in the parking lots or campgrounds mingling with fans. The lounge makes that an easy and cozy experience too.

“It’s cool to see what they’ve done with that space,” Pollard said. “Fans can come up and talk to you, and just have a good time, and that’s what it’s all about. You got to be able to have a good time when you go to these places when you stay two or three days at a time, and we really like racing here because of that.”

Track general manager Jeff Striegle, who is most known to NASCAR fans as a booth announcer on MRN Radio broadcasts, says the expansion of the midway has been a major point of emphasis during his three-year tenure.

“I knew if we could provide a great outdoor entertainment venue for the fans and racers, they’d stay and take it in, and they have,” Striegle said. “The response over the past two years has been incredible. We had no choice but to expand the area. We have added an additional 3,000 square-foot area with a roof under a section of our bleachers. The new area is complete with lights, sound, and a new vinyl divider wall that lays out the history of the Berlin Raceway.

“We have been able to provide race fans some of the best live entertainment in Western Michigan following each of our racing events.”

And then the fire pit — he’s really proud of the fire pit.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s 50 degrees or 90 degrees, everyone always seems to want to gather around it,” Striegle said.

Naturally the traveling drivers gravitate towards it because there aren’t a lot of facilities like it around the country, but local Super Late Model champions Brian Campbell and Evan Shotko don’t take it for granted either.

In addition to just being a nice space, it’s also a useful amenity alongside the suites to schmooze corporate sponsors and keep their cars on the track. Campbell has a suite for his partners, family and friends to use throughout the season and it’s just a huge reason he choose to race just 15 minutes from home after a decade or so of traveling with the Champion Racing Association.

Shotko says he takes a tremendous amount of pride to call his home track, for a lot of reasons, but most obviously that midway.

“No one will ever come here and say Berlin Raceway is a dump,” Shotko said. “To be honest, I don’t spend too much time at the lounge because I’m only 19 years old, but I don’t hear any complains about it, that’s for sure.”

Even from a sanctioning body standpoint, Ricky Brooks says it was important for his second year SRL National series to visit a track like Berlin because it’s a destination facility.

“That’s something we can promote, that I want to promote to racers and fans,” Brooks said. “We need fun stuff like that in racing and not just the grind of what it takes to race. For our race at Mobile, we fed all the teams at a pit party and everyone hung out at the track like we used to back in the day.

“The bottom line is that if you’re not having a good time, you’re not going to keep doing this. I want teams to have a good time and we want to have a good time when we put together a race.”

Cup Series driver Erik Jones has been racing at Berlin his entire life and he’s seen a lot of change during his adult life. He’s raced there in both ARCA and Super Late Model competition and says it’s near the top of facilities countrywide.

“I mean, the work they have put into it the past seven years or so, there’s only a handful of tracks that can rival it,” Jones said. “Not just in the state but the whole country as far as short tracks go in my opinion.

“The weather is always nice in the summer and it’s just a beautiful part of the country. It’s a great track from a layout standpoint and there are just a lot of good reasons to come up here as both a driver and a fan.”

And for that reason, Striegle says they are not done innovating, both the lounge and the entire midway and campground experience.

“The last night of our Supermodified weekend, following the races, I believe every single team was in the lounge area having a great time,” Striegle said. “To me that’s what it’s all about. Give everybody something special to look forward to and enjoy and they will support it.

“I don’t see us stopping in this area either. We are always looking at new and creative ways to give our customers, our race fans a better experience at our facility.”

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Matt Weaver is the owner and founder of Short Track Scene. Weaver grew up in the sport, having raced himself before becoming a reporter in college at the University of South Alabama. He also has extensive experience covering NASCAR, IndyCar and Dirt Sprint Cars.

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