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Struggling raceway condensing operations to Saturdays

Wed., April 10, 2013

Spokane County Raceway is pushing a majority of its race dates to Saturday this year in an attempt to stem continuing losses by the private operators of the county-owned track.

Track manager Craig Smith said he was forced to condense operations to Saturdays after losing $120,000 a year ago, his first year of operating the Airway Heights track.

Total losses to operators since the county bought the track in 2008 now stand at $1.6 million, and possibly more, since the start of the 2009 season, Smith said.

Smith and his son took over the track operation with the intention of making a success out of racing in the Spokane area but have found their road to be bumpy.

“I want to see the track break even,” Smith said Tuesday. “I can’t keep losing money like this. It’s crazy.”

The track kicks into gear starting the first weekend of May.

County commissioners paid $4.4 million for the 315-acre track property in 2008. At the time, they said they wanted to preserve the track complex as a tax-generating asset as well as its recreational value. The purchase has been widely criticized ever since.

Smith and the track operator, Raceway Investments, have consolidated their operation after taking back a sublease last summer for operation of the oval track for lack of payment.

Sheri Tarr of Full Blown Productions said at the time that she put $350,000 into the oval portion of the operation.

At midseason last year, Smith said he moved most of the Friday night drag racing events to Saturday to cut overhead. That included the street racers who competed in all-ages events.

This year’s schedule calls for five Friday night drag events with the rest on Saturdays.

Now, oval races will all be moved to Saturday with the exception of a single Friday night date. The track complex will open at 10 a.m. with racing at noon. Between six and eight classes will compete before racing ends at 10 p.m.

Smith said some drivers are critical of the change, but if the track can’t operate in the black, there won’t be any racing in Spokane.

He said the operation was losing $2,000 a night during Friday events last year. Street racing is declining in popularity among younger fans and drivers, Smith said.

Combining events will save on labor costs, insurance and other overhead, he said.

Smith said that Bucky Austin, the first operator under county ownership, lost more than $1 million in 2009.

The county then agreed to a contract with Ron Hodgson and Charles Allen, former owners of Raceway Investments, who lost $500,000 in 2010 and 2011.

They sold to Smith’s son, Shawn, who now owns Raceway Investments.

The county purchased the track at auction after it fell into a court-ordered receivership following financial and legal problems encountered by longtime track operator Orville Moe. A judge ruled that dividends had been improperly withheld from investors.

Moe was fired from the track in 2006 and banned from the facility by a judge following testimony that Moe had set up a secret bank account in defiance of the court-appointed receiver.

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