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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Two-horse race: Businessman wants to outbid Kalispel tribe for Spokane County raceway

UPDATED: Thu., June 17, 2021

A two-party bidding war has begun for the Spokane County Raceway.

Spokane County commissioners announced in early May that they’d received a $4.75 million offer for the raceway from the Kalispel Tribe of Indians. News of the potential sale drew praise from many racing enthusiasts eager to see the track regain some of its former popularity.

But while the prospect of new ownership generated excitement, it also raised concerns among Airway Heights officials and racing fans.

George Lawrence, who owns the CAL Cars auto dealerships in Airway Heights and Coeur d’Alene with his wife, Kelly, is one of those fans.

The motorhead said he fears the tribe will convert the racetrack to some other use and the Inland Northwest will lose a valuable racing resource.

So the Lawrences made the county an unsolicited offer on June 4: $4.8 million for the racetrack.

Ten days later, the Kalispel tribe offered the county $5.05 million.

The county commissioners plan to wave the checkered flag on the racetrack sale June 29 at their weekly 2 p.m. meeting. Spokane County spokesman Jared Webley said he does not know if the county is obligated to select the highest bidder or when the county will stop accepting bids.

“The commissioners are not actively soliciting bids,” Webley said, adding that “anybody can provide a bid for any county property at any time.”

Lawrence said his pockets aren’t as deep as the Kalispel tribe’s, but he’s not tapping out yet and plans to make another offer.

“I was hoping it wasn’t going to be a bidding war,” he said. “But it looks like it might be.”

Speedway saga

Spokane County bought the raceway at auction in 2008.

The auction came after five years of legal battles. In 2003, investors sued the racetrack’s owner, Orville Moe, after he failed to pay them. The track was auctioned to pay back investors.

Lawrence was at the auction, trying to buy the track. He remembers feeling discouraged as he watched the county top his and others’ bids.

“I thought that they shouldn’t be doing it,” Lawrence said.

Ultimately, the county won the track for $4 million, but it was a controversial purchase. Many shared Lawrence’s belief that racetrack management was best left to the private sector.

Still, at the time, Lawrence and others were hopeful the county could revive the ailing facility.

The raceway has had mixed success since the county took over. Even prior to the pandemic, parts of it have been closed for long stretches.

Lawrence said he tried to buy the raceway from the county in 2019 “for a lot less money,” but the county wasn’t interested.

This community loves racing, Lawrence said, and the track must be revitalized.

Lawrence thinks he’s the best man for the job. He knows the raceway well, having raced on its oval, road course and drag strip for 19 years. He knows the sport. And with his business background, he says he knows how to turn the place into a major draw once again.

“I don’t think I’d have a problem getting people out there to enjoy the racetrack,” Lawrence said. “I understand the business and I know how to market. That’s what I do for a living.”

If the Kalispel tribe promised to keep the raceway open and not repurpose it, Lawrence said he wouldn’t feel a need to buy it.

Spokane County officials say the tribe has indicated it wants to continue using the facility for racing.

Tim Nydegger, the executive director of corporate strategy for the Kalispel Tribe Economic Authority, said Wednesday the tribe is “doing its due diligence” and evaluating the property for both racing and other recreational uses. Nydegger did not say definitively that the property would remain a raceway.

Nydegger said if Lawrence tops the tribe’s $5.05 million offer, “the tribe’s going to continue to remain interested in the property.” He did not say how high the tribe would be willing to go in a bidding war.

“I don’t know where their top is; I know where my top is,” Lawrence said. “I haven’t reached that threshold yet, and there’s some people that are interested in throwing some money my way to make sure we keep it a racetrack.”

Lawrence said he isn’t sure yet if he’d want any financial help in buying the track. He said he’d rather maintain full ownership so he can control the operations .

“My heart’s desire is to have a really cool racetrack in the Northwest,” Lawrence said. “I don’t know who else is going to pull it off.”

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