Ten years ago Gina Schild-Knowles started a Texas Racing Facebook page, where fans can post photos of old tracks around the state and share their stories and memories.
"Let’s say it a picture of a wreck, and you get like so many different stories from someone that was a kid in the stands eating his hot dog, or someone that was there in the pits watching the race or a pit crew member or the two that are involved. It’s really, really unique," Schild-Knowles said.
It’s those memories Schild-Knowles is hoping to recreate for race fans, both new and old, at Houston Motorsports Park. In July, Schild-Knowles and her husband took over the lease for the 3/8-mile banked asphalt oval track in Houston, and she’s the promoter of the Texas Short Track Racing Series there. The track will be going NASCAR-sanctioned this year for the first time in a decade.
Houston Motorsports Park closed down and didn’t host a race for a few years a before Raymond Delahoussaye decided to open it back up a little over two years ago, with very minimal racing. Delahoussaye and another friend called Schild-Knowles asking if she could help the track get some sponsors. She was able to get contributions from drivers and a corporate sponsorship from Advance Auto Parts, "and it just grew from there," she said.
Delahoussaye passed away last year, a few months after Schild-Knowles took over. It was important to her to keep the track open to give drivers in the area a place to race. HMP is the only asphalt short track in the state of Texas.
"Texas is a real hard state," Schild-Knowles said. "We’re a big football state. Racing, it comes on and it goes strong and it fades out."
"It feels good to do this for the racers because if this track doesn’t work, they’ll have nowhere to race," Schild-Knowles said. "And they’ll be stuck with a lot of parts and a lot of cars and trucks and nothing to do with them. They won’t even be able to sell them because the closest track is far away so it devalues everything.
"Everyone I know that is involved in racing is like family. That kind of hurts my heart to think of them not having anywhere to go."
Schild-Knowles was born into the world of racing. Her grandfather, uncles, dad, brothers, sons, cousin, basically everyone in her family raced.
"If you’re a male in the Schild family and the Crofford family, you raced," she said. "The women didn’t get to race. I always told my stepfather that if he would have let me drive we would have been living in North Carolina and be very wealthy."
Instead, Schild-Knowles went to school and studied marketing, a passion she said she gets from her mom, Sondra Crofford, who did all the marketing for the drivers in their family. Looking at marketing also helped Schild-Knowles see racing from a different perspective, and she learned how to run a track for the fans.
After stepping away from the track for about three years to work in the corporate world in sales and have a daughter, it only took one trip to the track for Schild-Knowles to know where her heart truly belonged.
"The first time I went around it again, I think I got out of the car and I can remember it," she said. "I heard the cars and it just hit me. Like, wow. This is what I should always be around in some capacity. Always. It just feels, I guess like home you could say. It just feels like I belong there."
In the time since Schild-Knowles took over HMP, she’s worked to make changes that cater to the fans, like making sure races are over early and bringing in face painters and other entertainment specifically for kids. It wasn’t always easy to get the old school racers to conform to her new ideas, but she’s thankful they oblige and are willing to work with her to make sure the track is able to stick around.
She’s also found that the drivers are her biggest helpers. After Hurricane Harvey hit Houston in 2017, it was the drivers who helped clean up after the track’s offices were flooded, and they helped put up dry wall in the ticket office.
"All I have to do is ask the racers to come help and they help," Schild-Knowles said. "They work with me. They know that we’re still in a phase to where money is super tight. We’re still trying to put it back on the map in Houston as a top venue to where we can get crowds coming consistently. I couldn’t ask for better racers. They really do cut me a lot of slack in this grace period and I greatly appreciate that. They’re great people."
Presenting a track both drivers and fans can be proud of is part of the reason Schild-Knowles wanted to invest in NASCAR sanctioning this season. HMP has a drag strip that is well-known, but being in one of the biggest cities in America, she wanted the race track to have a name and brand all on its own.
She was also able to invest more into the track thanks to Advance Auto and inkDOTS as sponsors. Having NASCAR sanctioning will be hugely beneficial to solidifying those relationships.
Everything Schild-Knowles does is in hopes that fans will be able to make new memories at HMP with stories that they can share among friends in the years to come.
Having drivers, fans, and sponsors on board is enough for her to know she’s on the right track.
"It’s really good because all the drivers are on board, the fans give me comments. I don’t solicit them, they email them to me," she said. "It’s fantastic. It really helps you know you’re not guessing. You’re on the right path because you’re getting that feedback and you’re growing. I guess it’s the momentum that keeps you moving forward that’s super important.
"Bottom line, I just did not want it to go away. I did not want that to happen. It was very sad to me the thought of that option."
Schild-Knowles said she hopes to open the season on June 20, after delaying the season’s opening due to the coronavirus, with about two races per month through October. HMP will host Pro Trucks, Pro Mods, Outlaw Late Model, and Super Stocks as part of its NASCAR program, as well as Naskarts, Legacy, a limited schedule of Dwarfs, and Eco Stocks this season.