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Race fans scramble to save historic track



Save the Speedway
Noon "? 4 p.m. Saturday
Forest Building Supplies
300 N. May

Money will be pouring into the Oklahoma State Fair Park from tax dollars being purposed through MAPS 3, and a hotel and motel tax intended to upgrade the existing facilities. When longtime race fan and mechanic Erich Petersen pulled up a diagram of what the finished fairgrounds would look like, he didn't find his beloved, three-eighth-mile, oval dirt track, the State Fair Speedway.

 "It looks like it will be a parking lot," Petersen said. "City officials have been saying it doesn't bring enough revenue in, but you are going to replace it with a parking lot? Something isn't jiving here, and we don't think they are giving us a fair answer."

It seems days are numbered for the State Fair Speedway, aka "The Grandstand," especially after it was announced on that the 2010 season would be canceled. But Petersen has joined forces with other local race fans to come to the rescue of the 55-year-old racetrack, organizing a rally to show their support from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday at Forest Building Supplies, 300 N. May. Another event will be held 7 to 11 p.m. Thursday at Dan McGuinness Pub, 1003 S.W 19th in Moore.

"They've wanted to close it down for quite a while," organizer Mandy Griffin said. Her family has been linked to Oklahoma racing for generations, including a grandfather who built race cars, an aunt who was the youngest woman to be a track official, and Griffin's mother, who was the first pit woman in Speedway history. Griffin said she has also been involved with the track in various ways since she was a kid.

She thinks that city officials vying for the demolition of the racetrack have underestimated the enthusiasm of local fans. An online petition is tracking the number of them wanting to keep races running at the State Fair Park, and organizers are putting together a business plan to show other ways to make the Speedway financially solvent.

"We are also interested in helping our city make money," she said. "We also have some great ideas on things that could be done to bring in more money other than just having our normal season of racing. There are a number of events that they used to hold there that they can do again, like concerts, boxing and cage fighting. We are listing all the pros and cons, and we are trying to show that there are more pros to keeping the racetrack open."

It's going to take a lot of positives to overcome a rather grim assessment of the Speedway by Conventions, Sports & Leisure International's study prepared for the city manager's office, which dates back to June 2009. In it, the Speedway facilities are said to be in "poor condition."

According to the report, the track needs to be brought up to compliance with Americans with Disabilities Act, and also requires major electrical repairs and patron amenities, and to ensure the building is brought up to code.

The study estimates the repairs will require an immediate investment of $3.1 million and an additional $1.6 million over the next five years. Currently, the Speedway is leased for $40,000 a year to Edwards Racing.

City Manager Jim Couch said that no money has been budgeted for the repairs needed to get the facility structurally sound and compliant. Even so, he insisted the city has yet to sign off on the Speedway's destruction.

"That would be an overstatement, it isn't due for the wrecking ball at this time. The question right now is whether there will be a racing season coming up for 2010," he said.

Because there are no public funds allocated to fix the electrical needs of the facility, which Couch said are only the first of many issues that need to be addressed, it is on the racing community to raise money.

And then there are also the noise complaints from the neighboring community, but Griffin insists the self-monitoring shows that the noise from racing consistently stays below the civic requirements.

Couch admitted that Oklahoma City is large enough to justify some sort of racing facility, but he isn't sure if that facility will continue to be located at the State Fairgrounds, and said other sites have been discussed.

Griffin is opposed to fixing the problem by committing to another track because she doesn't believe another facility could be built within the city limits.

"There are (Environmental Protection Agency) guidelines we would have to worry about, then there are the sound  issues," she said. "Plus, anything they would build would just be like an Erector Set. You can't rebuild something with the historical value of the Speedway." "Charles Martin


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