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Published February 16 2010

Speedway prospects grim after talks between Red River Valley Fair board, Danny Schatz break down

Maybe that track in West Fargo is much bigger than just a half-mile of dirt.

The impact of a raceless Red River Valley Speedway stretches farther than the fairgrounds.

From Red River Valley Fair board members to drivers to sponsors to managers at other tracks, nobody knows what to expect from the first summer in 42 years there won’t be races at RRVS.

“Everyone is asking me how I think this will play out, but I just don’t know,” Buffalo River Race Park owner Kevin Nathe said. “I honestly have no idea, but any time you lose a facility like that, it’s not good for the racing community.

“Did you ever think there would be this much racing drama in the winter?”

The drama started on Friday when Fargo businessman Danny Schatz notified the Fair board that he was ceasing negotiations with the board on a lease agreement for the track.

Despite the fact that it was Schatz that ended the talks, the biggest backlash has been at the fair board, to the point where a Facebook page was created appealing to people to boycott the Red River Valley Fair in response to having no races this summer.

Justified or not, the Fair has taken a glut of calls since the news broke on Saturday.

“I really haven’t slept the last couple of nights because I guess I take a lot of this stuff personally,” Fair manager Bryan Schulz said. “We’ve turned everything around out here. Fair attendance is booming, things like Big Iron are booming, and we’re getting new sponsors for events.

“Then you get people that call and e-mail you that you’re stupid and should be fired and that your epitaph should say you’re the one that ruined racing in Fargo after 42 years.”

The hang-up

While both sides say it was a number of little things that prevented the deal, the biggest hang-up sounds like it came down to race dates.

Schulz said the original contract was for Schatz to pay $20,000 rent for 20 nights of racing in a year. Schatz wanted more flexibility, and didn’t want to be cornered into just racing one night per week.

“If you paid to rent the Fargodome for a year, and then you got to use it only 20 days?

“That wouldn’t be good,” Schatz said. “…We tried to make as many things work as possible, and we tried to do it in a positive way. It didn’t work out. I don’t have any hard feelings.”

Another issue came up with Big Iron, the Fair’s agricultural exhibition, as Schatz wanted to run a race over that weekend.

“Big Iron was a part of it, but I think we got over that,” Schulz said. “He would’ve liked to have had an event during Big Iron, but with millions of dollars of equipment out there, the security that would’ve had to be hired would’ve been immense.”

Schulz said the talks were pain-staking because of the detail involved in renting such a facility.

“It’s not just him giving us $20,000, and us giving him the track and signing a contract on the back of a napkin,” Schulz said. “There are legalities and insurance issues and who is going to pay for what when and you have to make sure all your Ts are crossed and your Is are dotted.

“I think he got frustrated and decided it wasn’t in his best interest.”

Schatz said he had invested more than $40,000 in engineering costs, light redesign costs and other expenses, but added that he wasn’t upset about it because he knew a contract wasn’t in place.

Schulz said the Fair board would continue negotiations with Schatz if Schatz wanted to resume the talks, but Schatz didn’t sound like he would be returning to the table any time soon.

“I’ll never say that I’m done with something, but it wasn’t something I was comfortable dealing with anymore,” Schatz said. “I have no regrets. I made my best pitch and best attempt, and it didn’t work out.”

Schatz added that he felt bad for the flak the Fair board is catching over the situation.

“They’re in a no-win situation, and they’re catching more heat than they deserve,” Schatz said. “They have no income coming in, and spending a bunch of money they don’t have is something they can’t do.

“A lot of people complain and whine about (the Fair board), but not a lot of people can step to the plate. It takes a lot of money to run those facilites. It’s hard.”

The drivers

It’s likely that no drivers will be taking the checkered flag at RRVS this season, but how many will at other tracks?

And how many sponsors will be painted on those cars?

“It’s not just ‘On no, now we’re not going to race in Fargo,’” said Fergus Falls driver Brock Gronwold, who is aksi WISSOTA driver’s representative. “There are sponsors that won’t sponsor drivers that aren’t running in Fargo.

“There are drivers that ran predominantly in Fargo, and now you hear that they might be quitting altogether. Will we lose racers? Time will tell. But I guarantee this isn’t helping to gain any.”

Schatz was going to move the RRVS shows from Friday to Wednesday nights. That move from caused Norman County Raceway in Ada, Minn., to shift from Thursday to Friday.

Other drivers have purchased motors and cars – Gronwold just purchased a Late Model, for example – that they intended to run at RRVS. Late Models run about $30,000.

“Now if you’re in Fargo, you can’t race a Late Model within close to 100 miles,” Gronwold said. “Those are long trips, and it gets expensive. Drivers will feel it.”

Modified driver Blake Jegtvig – who had won more RRVS features than any driver over the last three years – said it’s sad to hear the track won’t be used, but that drivers will find a place to go.

“That was my honey hole, and now it’s gone,” Jegtvig said with a laugh. “But it’s sad when anything goes down or gets shut off. I’ll still race, but we’ll just have to travel more, I guess. But those aren’t my decisions.”

“I thought it probably wouldn’t happen anyway because they don’t want anything to happen out there.”

The biggest complaint from drivers and fans is that they can’t figure out how the RRVS is losing money.

“Of the 59 other WISSOTA tracks, Fargo has the most in-town drivers, and Fargo has the largest population of any WISSOTA track,” Gronwold said. “You look at all these tiny towns, and they make it. They should be able to make ends meet in a place like Fargo.”

Schulz said simply that if the track were making money, they wouldn’t be exploring options to try to lease it out.

“We came out and said because of the loss of dollars, we weren’t going to continue moving forward with it,” Schulz said. “If it was making us money, why wouldn’t we continue to do it?

“As a business, that doesn’t make sense.”

Either way, it appears that nobody is going to be trying to turn a profit at the West Fargo track this season, and Gronwold said the racing community is already feeling the loss.

“It really stinks, on the racing end of it, and Fargo is a very strong racing-based people,” Gronwold said. “But it really affects the city as a whole, from the drivers to the sponsors the economy of people spending money there every Friday.

“It was drawn out so long that I don’t’ know if I’m surprised anymore. It’s just too bad.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kerry Collins at (701) 241-5548