PORTLAND SPEEDWAY-"The Dirt Track" Swan Song for Portland Speedway Portland, Ore. (January 16, 2002) In business, as in life, all things must end. For 77 years, Portland Speedway has entertained legions of area race fans with some of the most ...
PORTLAND SPEEDWAY-"The Dirt Track"
Swan Song for Portland Speedway
Portland, Ore. (January 16, 2002) In business, as in life, all things must end. For 77 years, Portland Speedway has entertained legions of area race fans with some of the most exciting and unique auto racing events throughout its storied history. Due to an impasse with the track's landowner group, however, the historic North Portland oval racetrack is destined to be just a fond memory for its many fans and competitors.
"It's a real shame," stated track General Manager, Craig Armstrong. "To close the doors on a historic racetrack that has graced this community for so many years is awfully difficult. I can't help but weep for everybody who has ever called this place 'home'."
The speedway landowners' group has declined to extend the track's lease beyond its current year-to-year term, or to offer any concessions or rent relief in consideration of extensive capital improvements made by Western Speedway's Inc. (WSI), the operating company for the track. Delays in communication from the landowners to WSI have prompted the World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series to offer Portland Speedway's prime August, 2002 dates to two other tracks in the State of Washington. With no Outlaw dates on the calendar, and faced with additional improvements for the facility, ever-increasing annual rent payments, and a short term lease, it has become apparent to track management that continued operations would not be feasible.
"The landowners have categorically refused to participate with us to upgrade the facility over the years, so all improvements have been made solely by us", Armstrong said. "It just doesn't make economic sense to continue throwing good money at a losing proposition".
WSI acquired the operating rights for the aging facility in 1984. At the time of their initial lease, the property was in deplorable condition, with mountains of garbage and waste littering the grounds, as well as restrooms, grandstands and concession areas not fit for occupancy. Through many months of hard work and dedication by the staff and volunteers, the property was ready to reopen in the spring of that year with a prestigious sanctioning agreement from NASCAR.
Armstrong said that the absence of consideration for capital improvements, coupled with the year-to-year lease agreement that called for annually increasing rent payments, pushed the track's overhead to the limit. And, according to industry surveys, Portland Speedway rates at the top-end among weekly racetracks nationwide for landlord compensation.
"We lost the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series after 1998, due mainly to our lease making it virtually impossible to secure financing for NASCAR's required improvements," Armstrong said. "Since we couldn't come up with the nearly one million dollars to re-pave the track and create a 'hot pit' area for the trucks, we lost the race. After that we had no marquee event and even considered closing the track after the disappointing 1999 season. If it were not for the opportunity to get the World of Outlaws here in 2000, we sure as heck wouldn't have borrowed the money and risked big to convert the track to clay, put in new walls and fencing, and install a state-of-the-art MUSCO Lighting system. Now it appears that the Outlaws are gone, so we really have nowhere to go from here."
Armstrong says that, after 14 years at the helm of Portland Speedway, the situation is personally devastating. "I grew up at Portland Speedway and spent the better part of my adult life trying to make this track a great place for competitors and spectators to come and enjoy," Armstrong said. "I feel the saddest for our drivers and their families, who will not have a local track to enjoy their favorite sport on Friday nights."
"Let me be perfectly clear on one thing," Armstrong continued. "This in no way represents a negative trend in the weekly short track business in general. This situation is an anomaly. I believe the sport is very much alive and healthy, and I expect to be a part of this business as long as the Good Lord gives me breath."
Armstrong, a native of Portland, serves as President and CEO of WSI and has managed Portland Speedway since 1988. He plans an orderly closure of the track within the next month, and is currently considering proposals to build a new asphalt oval in the greater Portland metro area.