I've heard a lot of pea-brained ideas come out of College Station, Texas, but the thought of bulldozing a historic racetrack that remains in active use almost every weekend of the year in favor of cheap, tacky houses on dinky lots takes the cake. Simply put: that ain't right.
Per WTAW, the current ownership of Texas World Speedway has applied to create a Municipal Utility District (MUD), which would allow the developer to issue bonds to install the infrastructure for roads, sewers and other items necessary for the track site to be developed into a master-planned community featuring homes, business space, parks and an elementary school.
While the track's 2014 calendar will be honored through the end of the year, the developer wants to start construction as early as 2015.
The owner, McAlister Opportunity Fund (also operating under Grid Raceplex Holdings, Ltd.), purchased the property in December 2013 with no public announcement made for what they intended to do with it. In fact, most of the regional track community has been blindsided by this news. All of the recent drive to clean up the track facilities and surroundings gave us hope that maybe they'd start turning the facility around, but it looks like that was all just a two-faced move on the part of the ownership.
I say this as both an amateur racer and a Texan: this racetrack needs to stay a racetrack. It's about preserving our history and heritage. It's about what's right and what's wrong. Most of all, it's about keeping a facility that serves an entire state of racers around for years of continued use.
I can think of many better uses for this developer's $513 million, such as purchasing a large cactus to insert where the sun don't shine and handing the rest of it to me so I can buy and race a pretty lilac 911 Cup car.
Let's be honest: Texas World Speedway isn't in the best shape today. Even the ladies' bathroom is a tad sketch, which is saying something. I don't even have fond memories of my attempt to race here. Yet it's the strip of pavement that keeps everyone coming back.
Texas World Speedway was constructed as a two-mile Super Oval in 1968 and remains one of the fastest oval tracks in existence today. It features 22-degree banking in the corners and 8-degree banking in the straights.
Perhaps it was doomed from the start, as its first years suffered from low attendance due to a feud between speedway owner Larry LoPatin and NASCAR founder Bill France Sr. over a Talledega driver's boycott. France then deemed LoPatin's prize amount too small for a superspeedway and dropped TWS' first scheduled NASCAR race from the calendar in 1969. Although LoPatin was able to raise sufficient funds to hold the 1970 race, it only drew 24,000 spectators—far too few for a facility of this size.
The OPEC crisis interrupted TWS' plans further in the mid-seventies, and the track eventually fell off the NASCAR calendar after 1981. ARCA briefly raced there from 1991-1993, but since then, the main draw has been the 2.9-mile road course. TWS features prominently on the calendars of NASA, PCA, SCCA, CVAR, ChumpCar, CMRA and other road racing, high performance driver's education and time trial groups due to its central location.
Despite its rocky history, TWS hosted many great oval drivers in its heyday, including A. J. Foyt, Richard Petty, Bobby Isaac, Buddy Baker, Darrell Waltrip, Cale Yarborough and Benny Parsons.
The oval's high speeds broke numerous records as well. Mario Andretti's 214.158 MPH world record for closed course speed during a 1973 IndyCar qualifying session stood untouched for twelve years.
TWS is one of only seven super speedways in the United States, and the only one in the Southwest. It is the track responsible for bringing NASCAR and other pro racing series to Texas—the precursor to Texas Motor Speedway and even Circuit of the Americas. For this, it deserves to be treated with respect.
Why TWS Is Still Relevant
Texas World Speedway may not be in the best condition anymore, but its weekends for the year usually fill up by August of the preceding year. Why? Because it the most centrally located and accessible road course in the entire state of Texas.
A look at the schedule shows a thriving track, not a hopeless tear-down. Its central location brings in drivers and motorcyclists from all over the state. For example, the Austin-area and Houston-area Porsche Club of America regions share the venue for HPDEs. Nowhere else in the state is as easy for multiple regions to reach or as easy to schedule.
Here's why losing TWS would be a colossal blow to the entire statewide racing community:
- Membership-based tracks such as MSR-Houston, MSR-Cresson, Eagles Canyon Raceway and Harris Hill Road have to block off a certain amount of time for members' use, limiting the number of outside events that they can add to the schedule.
- Smaller venues such as Driveway Austin and Grandsport Speedway were not built to accommodate club races and can't hold the same number of cars on or off the track as a venue like TWS.
- Circuit of the Americas is so pricey that it becomes more of a special event/"bucket list" venue. Most track day and club racing groups cannot afford to run there on a regular basis.
- Texas Motor Speedway, the other NASCAR oval track, has an active pro racing schedule to work around.
This isn't to knock the other venues in Texas, but rather to state the fact that finding alternate venues for every event currently on the TWS schedule would be extremely challenging. Closing TWS would provide Texans fewer options to safely release our need for speed in a controlled track environment. With the economy improving, demand for track time is going up.
Furthermore, Texas World Speedway remains an active venue for testing, press events and other activities during the week.
Although its oval is most known for high speeds, the road course layout itself is beloved by many for its quick, flowing layout. I know many locals who list the track among their favorites, and it is certainly a unique venue for Texas.
Losing the site forever would be a travesty.
Why This Is A Bad Idea For College Station
Texas A&M may be the College Station's cash sheep, but Texas World Speedway's constant event line-up provides a solid stream of additional revenue. Not just any revenue, but cash-money from people who have no connection to the university and/or agricultural pursuits. In other words, people who otherwise have no other reason to ever to step foot in College Station.
No more Texas World Speedway, you say? Well, then there's a really nice Courtyard I'll probably never stay in again, a restaurant bearing my screen name in a hilarious manner that I'll never get to eat at again and a Freebirds I'll pass up because we have one in Waco now, thanks. Hotels, restaurants and other local businesses will take a hit.
In other words, my money's probably going to Angleton, San Marcos or Decatur—mine plus the hundred or so other drivers and their family, crew and other hangers-on from a typical track weekend.
Furthermore, the track's temperate climate and year-round track season means that track visitors fill hotels even when school is not in session, making summer months between Aggie athletics' seasons much easier for local businesses to bear.
When the track was most recently shopping around for investors, it was listed as the second largest draw to College Station, only after the football stadium. That is no small feat, and certainly not a small loss for the community.
Homes may provide a captive audience, but there are plenty of other tracts of land near the city that would be more desirable to build on than on or near an existing racetrack, affording the city to make property taxes off of new housing as well as keep the steady stream of racetrack attendees coming through the town. As one forum user on mybcs.com stated, "Go west!"
Honestly, I wouldn't even put goats on that land, much less a full-blown housing development. Why? Because I know what happens at racetracks and the amount of mess that gets left in those fields, unintentional and otherwise. I'd be afraid little Billy Goat would eat up choking on oily thrown Triumph rods or parts of the junk pile that used to be outside Turn 7. I've been told the junk has since been cleaned up, but the fact that it existed for so many years means I would not want to buy a cookie-cutter tract house on that land. Nope!
The facility predates many modern environmental concerns, so I would be extremely worried about what could be in the soil, not to mention what kinds of bills either the developers or the city could be stuck with to clean it up as part of entering into a Municipal Utility District agreement and approving the housing development.
What Can You Do?
Even though this piece of news came as a surprise to most of the people who saw it yesterday, the College Station City Council has yet to approve the Municipal Utility District that would spell certain doom for TWS. That vote is scheduled to happen on March 27, 2014.
Speak up. There is currently a petition circulating advocating that the track be kept open as a track. Let area businesses (particularly those in the food and hospitality business) you frequent know of the potential drop in revenue should this pass and the importance of keeping TWS open to them. And finally, let the City Council itself as well as the current ownership of TWS know what you think about this plan and how harmful it would be to to the area as a whole.
If you're reading this and you have a say in this matter, please don't let Texas World Speedway's demise become fodder for yet another Aggie joke. Do the right thing and spare an important landmark and amateur racing venue from destruction.
Image credits: WTAW (map), AP Images (historic photo)