By Nick Woodard, Chico Enterprise-Record
Oroville >> When Lowell Moural Sr. took over the Cycleland Speedway in 1980, he thought something like this might happen. He didn’t know how exactly or who would be involved, but he always envisioned a high level of racing coming to his track.
“My job was to groom the place into something it could happen with,” Moural said.
Thirty-six years in the making, Moural has done just that. The owner of Cycleland and the head of track preparation at both his track and the Silver Dollar Speedway will welcome the Kyle Larson Outlaw Kart Showcase on Tuesday at Cycleland, then head straight to Chico’s quarter-mile course to prepare for four nights of the 63rd annual Gold Cup Race of Champions.
It’s a lot of work preparing both tracks for Chico’s biggest week of dirt racing. It’s nothing new for Moural, though. He’s been connected to area racing for most of his life.
Today, you can find Moural behind the wheel of a water truck, preparing either of the tracks for a night of racing. But a few decades back, he filled out his paychecks as a professional flat track motorcycle rider.
Moural once beat legendary rider Kenny Roberts in a flat track race. He’s got a picture of the two riding side-by-side around a turn at roughly 100 miles per hour on his smartphone to prove it.
By 1980, Moural was 30 and the founders of Cycleland were getting out of the business. A couple of potential suitors tried to run the track without success, and Cycleland almost fell into Moural’s hands.
“It wasn’t like I came up with the idea that I need to buy a race track,” Moural said. “I was in that circle of people already, they saw a skill in me and wanted to take a chance on me.”
As a new owner, Moural’s initial goal was to stick with flat track racing as Cycleland’s main attraction. The sport’s dynamics were changing however, and it took until 1991 for Moural to find a new mainstay: outlaw karts.
“Our first race on the new oval track was in 1991, and it hasn’t slowed down since,” Moural said. “We had 100 entries the first night, and it has never slowed down.”
For Moural, the key to it all was track preparation. He had become something of a student of the facilities that he experienced during his travels as a rider, and he had a strong idea of what makes a good track.
“It’s one of the keys to success, along with efficiency and safety. Those are the things that make it work,” Moural said. “If you’re giving them a facility that’s fun to play on, you’re the winner.”
At Cycleland, Moural created a track that has since produced a growing list of successful drivers. Larson, Sean Becker, Rico Abreu and many more cut their teeth at Cycleland before finding success elsewhere, something that can’t be said of many other tracks in the country.
“Look at the success that people have had coming out of his race track as young adults,” said Troy Hennig, the CEO of Silver Dollar Speedway. “It’s one of the only tracks in America that has produced multiple drivers that have left and are on their way to do great things.”
Hennig has a birds’ eye view of Moural’s track prep skills since the latter began volunteering at Silver Dollar five years back. Before then, the track had been in rough shape. Moural stepped in, Hennig said, and helped orchestrate a reshaping and reworking of the entire course. He didn’t do it alone — a team of people work with Moural on a daily basis to get the track race ready — but Hennig said he helped bring something the track had been lacking for a number of years.
“All that really matters is that quarter-mile clay oval circle,” Hennig said. “If you get that right, the drivers are going to race it and the fans are going to keep coming back.”
As much work as the tracks take, especially during a busy week like Gold Cup, Moural said the most important part of track preparation are the final two hours before the race. The rest of the week, he’ll supervise and make sure things get done like they should. On race day, he hits the track.
“The race track itself gets its personality in what you do the last two hours of the day,” Moural said.
It’s been said already, but it’s worth saying again. Maintaining two tracks is a lot of work. The payoff for Moural comes with seeing drivers, outlaws and sprints alike, find success on the tracks he groomed. He refuses to take credit for them, saying rather his only hand in the matter was creating the environment for the drivers.
Still, a framed picture of a young Larson hoisting a trophy above his head hangs in the Cycleland press box, and Larson returns this week as an accomplished NASCAR driver. When the scene shifts to Silver Dollar, many of the drivers vying for a shot at Gold Cup history got their start in outlaw karts, including the six-time Silver Dollar champion in Becker. For Moural, that’s what it’s all about.
“That’s the fulfillment you get out of this,” Moural said. “You’re not going to get rich in this business. What I get out of it is watching this young talent progress. We’ve had so much of it from this one location here. It’s an amazing thing.”