The Grove fights for survival

Cottage Grove, Oregon (February 19, 2003) - In a passionate community battle brothers Russell and Bob Leach, owners of Cottage Grove Speedway find themselves fighting Lane County officials and Cottage Grove residents for the survival of their ...

Cottage Grove, Oregon (February 19, 2003) - In a passionate community battle brothers Russell and Bob Leach, owners of Cottage Grove Speedway find themselves fighting Lane County officials and Cottage Grove residents for the survival of their track.

Issues:

Located just outside Cottage Grove city limits, operation of the track has come under scrutiny of Lane County Planning Director Kent Howe due to upgrades and improvements made to the facility over the years without county approval.

In operation since 1956 the speedway was not zoned by the county until 1976, twenty years after competitive racing began on the site.

Originally zoned agriculture, grazing, and timber the legality for use of the property is now being questioned by Director Howe, twenty-seven years following the county's initial zoning decision made in 1976.

The 1/4-mile clay oval track is positioned on 17.25 acres adjacent to county fairgrounds to the south, a golf course to the east, and approximately 1/4 mile west of Interstate-5.

Howe rejected a proposal by track owners to grandfather property zoning regulations due to unauthorized improvements.

In addition a small group of local residents have filed suit against the track alleging the race engine noise levels have increased substantially since 1982.

Residents also claim that recent improvements made to the track public address system have worsened the track noise levels. And that new lighting has increased light spill into their neighborhood during evening events.

Defense:

Of the three environmental allegations made by local residents, none can be proved using known data stating lighting conditions and noise levels dating back as far as 1982.

Residents are using best recollection and memory to state their case. No environmental impact studies have ever been done prior to this current situation.

The allegation that lighting from the new taller towers allows more light to spill into neighborhoods located over a half mile away is baseless.

With the latest Musco Lighting technology, the purpose of placing taller light towers is to allow a more direct focus of lights to the racing surface reducing light spill twenty to thirty percent, while increasing safety of competitors and creating a better view for spectators.

The new public address system replaced an overbearing, arcane 2000- watt system. This kind of improvement is designed to improve the racing experience for fans.

Racing is a sport of continuous improvement. With all the technical advances made over the last twenty years it is simply not possible for engine noise levels to have increased dramatically since 1982.

Race promoters strive endlessly to lower decibel levels and improve the racing experience.

In an attempt to demonstrate noise levels for Lane County officials a sound test was arranged at the Cottage Grove Airport.

Following the test track opponents contacted state and city officials claiming the test was conducted illegally on state property without proper authority to use the airport site.

It would seem that at every opportunity when the track attempts to fairly defend the allegations presented they are repeatedly handed a new set of circumstances in which they are required to respond.

In response to the airport noise test, Cottage Grove City Council Member Lynn Miller was quoted by writer Christopher Baker of the Cottage Grove Sentinel as saying, "The people in town who have enjoyed the speedway for years are in danger of losing the speedway due to the Leaches. They have repeatedly violated county land-use protections, which they knew about for their own gain."

While the Leach family may not have used proper channels for track improvements, nothing they have done puts the public at any risk. Their efforts have been intended to improve the racing experience for competitors and fans. This in effect is designed to encourage return use of the facility and grow revenues.

What Council Member Lynn Miller seems to forget is that the purpose of business is to succeed for growth and gain. She holds a public position, which should encourage prosperity and the over-all health of the community.

It would appear that Miller has predetermined this situation regardless of true facts, such motives should be questioned.

Tangible Community Benefits:

1. Racing is affordable family entertainment for the community, holding entertainment dollars within the community.

2. Prize money distributed by the speedway is in excess of $200,000 during the race season.

3. Economic benefit to the city/county/state, during World of Outlaw events alone is two million dollars. This does not include the thousands of out of town guests the speedway draws throughout the remainder of the season.

4. Spin-off sales prior and following events for: Hotels - Gas Stations - Restaurants - Grocery Stores - Fast Food Chains - Convenience Stores- Local Shops and many others.

5. Generation of sales for track vendors/suppliers.

6. A year round source of community fund raising for local charitable organizations.

Intangible/Intrinsic Community Benefits:

1. Source of community pride and regional recognition.

2. Positive selling point for community leaders.

3. The speedway draws and holds local business.

The Fix:

Is there a solution, some middle ground that would allow the Cottage Grove racing tradition to continue, while accommodating Lane County and the environmental concerns of local residents?

Public officials along with community leaders need to become involved with this situation.

Closing the track is choosing to shut down a revenue generating source of community entertainment. Beyond that if the track is closed it brings to an end a way of life, a passion that local racers and thousands of fans have enjoyed for the last forty-seven years.

In an article written by Nate Puckett, of the Eugene Weekly the writer admits prior to entering the track that he is not a racing fan. He went on to say, "Cars don't do it for me, and a 1/4-mile track is for racing on foot. That's a beautiful sport." He continued, "Auto racing is barely a sport at all."

Those were his thoughts prior to attending his first event, knowing nothing about the sport.

After just one event and a few hours at the track he leaves writing, "Auto racing is not just a matter of recreation to many people, at least not to the ones that come to Cottage Grove. It's a lifestyle sometimes a calling, and one of the myriad ways personal freedom manifests itself, it's a community."

Puckett went on to write, "Ultimately the goings-on at Cottage Grove Speedway are grounded in a sort of hunger that transcends judgment, because the hunger is inevitable. The urgency that originally drove people to converge, to nod in agreement is the same force that fills the speedway on Saturday nights."

Puckett closed his speedway story writing, "It's reasonable to picture the county putting additional limitations on noise, space and time--there are rules, and complaints, and of course lawyers. What's absurd is to imagine the oval disappearing. It's made of people as much as dirt."

While not a fan of racing Puckett spent a few hours inside the circle, ultimately experiencing the genuine drive and passion participants feel for auto racing.

Mistakes have been made and need to be corrected. Complaints by track opponents need to be addressed, and action taken. But not to the extent of shutting down an industry with so many people and traditions dating back decades.

Don't throw the book at track owners, hand them the book, and explain the county improvement process. Cottage Grove Speedway it a piece of community tradition, something worth keeping for all to enjoy in the years to come. Allowing the Grove to be shut down for reasons of procedural error, and a hand full of unsubstantiated environmental claims is an injustice to thousands of racing fans and the local economy.

It's time for community leaders to step-up; given current economic conditions what would be best for the community as a whole?

-George Stefanini, Guest Writer

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Series Sprint , World of Outlaws