GILBERTSVILLE – The new owners of Kentucky Lake Motor Speedway are making progress toward returning the 3/8-mile dirt oval to operation, but racing likely will not resume until the spring of 2014.
Partners Ronnie Jones and Jim Hale, both of Hopkinsville, closed Friday on the purchase of the track, which they bought at auction June 27 for $990,000.
Jones said a general manager has been hired and work is under way, both physical and administrative, to ready the speedway for re-opening after more than three years of inactivity.
But the new owners won’t be able to present their first racing program this fall, Jones said.
Instead, they will hold an open house in late September or early October to give drivers an opportunity to try out the racing surface for the first time in more than three years and give fans a chance to come out for a visit.
“We hope to get maybe 25 or 30 drivers, anybody that wants to come over,” Jones said. “They can see what we’ve done, try it out four or five hours, get in free, walk around, check it out. Get everybody focused on it, hope they walk out of here saying, ‘Boy, I can’t wait to come back.’”
Tommy House, who lives in Cadiz, is the general manager.
“He retired from NASCAR about four or five years ago,” Jones said. “He worked for them 25-plus years. He’s going to be in charge of day-to-day operations.”
House, 70, is a Christian County native who became involved in dirt track racing before he went into the Marine Corps and, after military service, relocated in Georgia, where he became involved with NASCAR stock car racing.
He worked in various capacities with America’s largest auto racing organization, finishing his tenure by participating in safety research that followed the death of legendary driver Dale Earnhardt in a crash in 2001.
Now, he’s coming out of retirement to help revive the speedway, which opened in 1997 and has not had regular racing programs since 2005.
“The potential is there, its location and the facility,” House said of the track. “It’ll take development and doing what you say you’ll do for the competitors and the fans to make a family-oriented place with good food and clean restrooms.”
Jones and Hale are convinced the once-popular racing venue can be successful once again.
“We know we have the facility, we know there is a product out there, it’s just getting them together,” Jones said.
He acknowledged difficult economic times but said the intent is to pay a sufficiently high purse to attract drivers in the top division, Super Late Model, to compete regularly at the track.
“I think it’s common knowledge – money will get the racers here,” Jones said. Having those drivers on hand will help bring in the fans, and then it will be up to the track management to put on a good program.
Reviving the track is good economic news for the county, said Debbie Buchanan of the Marshall County Chamber of Commerce.
“Something of that magnitude, that’s going to bring in a lot of people and that will boost our economy – the obvious things, such as hotels, gas stations and restaurants,” she said.
“It’s definitely going to be a boost to tourism.”
The track could be complemented by all sorts of enterprises at what will soon be the intersection of Interstate highways 24 and 69.
Buchanan noted that the new speedway owners have discussed various uses for the parcel of land adjacent to the speedway, which was also acquired by their winning bid, and are open to the possibility of using the racetrack for other functions.
“It’s an awesome location,” Buchanan said. “I was super pleased with their take on using that facility for purposes other than racing – concerts, benefits and other events.”
Jones and Hale are also hoping to blunt some of the complaints that plagued the track when it was first proposed and after it was built, regarding noise and dust and late hours of operation.
Jones is convinced that a businesslike approach can keep racing programs moving along and conclude them at a reasonable hour and he mentioned one idea that may help with noise abatement – adding billboard signs around the east end of the speedway, stacking them two-high and leaning the top layer inward to deflect noise back into the track.
“The new owners seem to be proactive [about the complaints], and I’m pleased with that,” Calvert City Mayor Lynn Jones said.
Jones remarked that he’s not sure whether it’s a bad time or an opportune one to take on this venture.
“The economy, it’s a tough nut right now,” he said.
With the uncertain future of the Paducah track, and the quality of the Kentucky Lake Motor Speedway facility, Jones is gambling that there will be an appetite for the product.
“We’re hoping it being closed down for so long and so much local interest, those first couple of weeks are really gonna bring a lot of people,” Jones said, “and if we can have those racers here and put on that good show, that we’ll pick up a little more instantaneous jump.”