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Published February 18 2010

Forum editorial: Restart speedway discussion

What sport packs in the biggest crowds in the Red River Valley? It’s not North Dakota State University Bison football. It’s not F-M RedHawks baseball. It’s not even University of North Dakota Sioux hockey.

It’s auto racing at the Red River Valley Speedway at the fairgrounds near West Fargo. The speedway racing season, with a few exceptions because of bad weather, has drawn the largest crowds for decades. There has to be a way for Red River Valley Fair officials and race car drivers to keep the track going. The collapse of talks between the fair board and a prominent racing supporter should not be the end of the matter.

Auto racing in all its forms at the speedway is rooted in the valley, not only among fans in the stands, but also among a racing fraternity that includes drivers, their crews, auto service centers and parts suppliers. That network involves scores of business owners who sponsor cars and drivers.

In other words, racing at the fairgrounds is more than the racing itself. It’s as much a cultural phenomenon as it is a summer sport. It’s as much a cherished tradition as it is competition among drivers.

Even for non-racing fans, it’s difficult to swallow the claim that after more than 40 years of racing the speedway can’t make it financially. Those involved in both sides of a failed negotiation to lease the track are talking nice about each other. But the apparent lack of flexibility and unwillingness to compromise on both sides will stall racing this summer unless something changes.

The fair board certainly is obligated to manage finances carefully, including revenues and/or losses associated with the speedway. Racing supporters should come up with proposals that not only keep the track roaring, but also acknowledge that the board can’t accept an arrangement that undermines the fair’s recently precarious financial condition. The abuse being heaped on fair manager Bryan Schulz by racing fans is unwarranted.

Still, there has to be a way. Auto racing brings people to the fairgrounds and the community. It generates all sorts of non-racing economic activity, from restaurant and hotel use to shopping. The speedway is right up there among the best tracks in the Upper Midwest; it is on the circuit for several racing classes.

Finally, canceling the season also cancels plans for hundreds of drivers, their pit crews and families and thousands of fans. Drivers were planning their schedules, purchasing cars for specific competitions and lining up sponsors.

Given what is at stake, fair officials and racing supporters should return to the negotiating table. They should be ready to compromise for the good of the sport. The alternative is a dead track – a monument to their failure.

NOTE: In Tuesday’s editorial on the Giving + Learning program, we failed to include information on how to help.

Phone, (701) 271-7549; Web site, www.givinglearning.org; location, Riverview Place, 5300 12th St. S., Fargo, ND 58104.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.