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Track bidder angry at county

Businessman Don Morse was among 19 bidders at Thursday's public auction at the DoubleTree Hotel for 13 parcels of land at the former Raceway Park site. 
 (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Businessman Don Morse was among 19 bidders at Thursday's public auction at the DoubleTree Hotel for 13 parcels of land at the former Raceway Park site. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

A Deer Park businessman, who cast a higher per-acre bid than Spokane County for Spokane Raceway Park property at an auction Thursday, said Friday he’s angry that he was outbid by the government competitor for land containing three racetracks.

Don Morse, who said he is a friend of NASCAR mogul Jack Roush, said he will demand answers from county commissioners at their regular meeting Tuesday.

Commissioner Mark Richard had said before the auction the county would step aside if a private business was interested in buying the drag strip and track complex.

“I am going to ask the commissioners why they didn’t honor what they’d said publicly,” Morse said Friday. “We just want to ask them why they were bidding against a private business entity.”

Richard said Friday that if a party wanted the land to maintain it as a raceway they should have let the county know well before the auction. “We were bound by statute as well as the rules of the auction to not enter into collusion,” Richard said. “That was one of the handcuffs of the auction.”

Now, Morse said, he will offer commissioners $13,100 an acre for a 200-acre parcel at their Tuesday meeting, but wasn’t optimistic they’d accept.

At least two commissioners said they would entertain a sale.

“If it’s for the interests of NASCAR, I would consider that in a heartbeat,” Richard said. He cautioned, however, that selling the land is more complicated than simply cutting a deal with Morse. The county would have to open the sale to any interested buyer and sell it for the highest price.

Commissioner Bonnie Mager, who opposed the county’s participation in the auction, also said she supports considering a sale to racing interests. She said Morse’s bid is an indication that the county wasn’t needed to save the track.

Richard said the bid is a strong indication that the raceway isn’t just a “little podunk track.”

“It demonstrates to the public the level of interest and support for this track. You’re talking about national interest in this.”

The county paid $4.3 million for land it had appraised at $2.9 million.

Walter Knopp, who won three properties in the auction and lost out to the county on another, said Friday that county taxpayers got a good deal. “I would say that it’s worth considerably more,” said Knopp, who added he supported the county’s purchase to preserve the raceway.

“They could turn around anytime they wanted to and sell it probably for four times what they paid for it.”

He said, however, that the land couldn’t command a large profit if it was sold to be maintained as a racetrack.

Morse was only interested in parcel No. 1 – 199 acres that include the drag strip, half-mile oval track and 2.5-mile road course. Spokane County bought it and three other parcels, totaling 315 acres.

During the auction, Morse said, “I bought parcel No. 1 five times, but each time the county took it away from me” by proposing packages involving parcel No. 1 and other adjoining parcels.

When he approached a county delegation three times during the two-hour auction, Morse said, he was repeatedly rebuffed and told he couldn’t discuss his interest with the county “or it would look like collusion.”

Richard said that given the rules of the auction, the county had no way of knowing if it was bidding against someone who wanted to save the raceway, let alone if it was bidding against the private sector.

Officials didn’t release the name of one successful bidder who got three parcels.

Morse said that if he had won the track, he would have invited Roush, his multimillionaire NASCAR friend, to become financially involved in developing the deteriorating complex, perhaps with an eye toward turning it into a NASCAR-sanctioned facility.

“I was on the phone with Jack Roush three or four times during that auction,” Morse said Friday. “There was a strong possibility he would have helped me if I’d been able to buy it, but I just couldn’t keep up with Spokane County.”

Morse, 59, who lives in Chewelah, has made other real estate investments in the Spokane area. He owns Discount Aircraft Salvage, an aircraft wreckage and parts business based at Deer Park Airport.

Morse said he met Roush and the two developed a friendship more than a decade ago when former Spokane NASCAR racer Chad Little was a member of Roush’s racing team. Morse said he and Roush, who share interests in flying and auto racing, recently talked about buying the entire 570-acre site – ordered to auction by a state judge.

“We wanted to buy the whole thing and make it into a NASCAR track, but there just wasn’t time to get all that lined up,” he said.

Roush is chairman of Roush Enterprises, which owns various companies. One of those is Roush Racing, which employs more than 2,000 people and fields five cars in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, six cars in the NASCAR Nationwide Series and three trucks in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series.

Morse said he and Roush discussed the possibility of buying and revitalizing the raceway when they met last month in Las Vegas, but Roush had not yet traveled to Spokane to inspect the site.

“We were talking about putting a one-mile oval track out there,” Morse said.

At one point in the merry-go-round style auction that put various parcels back on the auction block, Morse – who was Bidder No. 799 – was the successful high bidder for only Parcel No. 1 at $13,100 an acre. That would have put his total purchase at $2,606,900, plus an additional 10 percent buyer’s commission.

Spokane County, represented at the auction by Richard and other officials, was the apparent high bidder for parcel No. 1 with a bid of $12,500, or $600 an acre less than Morse’s bid. The county was the high bidder for parcel No. 1 by packaging it with adjoining parcels No. 5, 10 and 11, buying the four-parcel package for $3.9 million.

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