Fairgrounds Speedway promoter Gene Felker is urging Montezuma County to repair and upgrade the racetrack, and is interested in renegotiating his contract or purchasing the venue.
Standing before the Montezuma County Board of County Commissioners in a meeting packed with racers and fans, Felker on Tuesday pushed for commissioners to help pay for fixing bleachers and fencing, and for upgrades to racetrack lighting.
Felker leases operations of the racetrack from the county for $350 per day during races, and helped it grow significantly in the past few years.
It showed last weekend when over 1,700 fans packed the bleachers to watch the races, he said.
“People came from seven states and spent money in the community,” Felker said.
Since taking over, race participation has increased from 30 cars per night a few years ago to more than 100 cars signing up to race in various events, he said.
But Commissioner Jim Candelaria pointed out Felker’s operations contract with the county calls for Felker to handle and pay for maintenance of the track with some assistance from the county.
He said Felker had a choice to lease the racetrack for $1,100 per day, in which case the county would have paid for the majority of the maintenance and upgrades.
“You chose the $350 business plan,” Candelaria said, and therefore are responsible for maintenance.
The county has a limited budget, he said, and will help out where it can. Used bleachers are being sought by the county, as are fencing bids.
Candelaria said the fairground’s racetrack promoter has access to a county grant writer to help seek funding for the track’s needs.
Felker said he would consider the other contract option, and was also open to purchasing the track from the county. Options may be explored more by both parties, but no decisions were made.
Commissioners said claims that the county could use sales tax money to upgrade the racetrack were false, because the county does not collect a sales tax. County officials said they would review proposals for improvements at the race track and fairgrounds.
During public comment, a dozen people expressed support for the racetrack and the benefits of the racing events, which have been a long tradition in Montezuma County.
Tony Hill said the county “can do better” for the racetrack, just as the owner has a responsibility for fixes and upgrades.
Other speakers said Felker’s dedication to get young people involved in racing teaches them a fun sport and auto-repair skills, and keeps them away from sedentary hobbies in front of video screens.
Others touted economic benefits of racers and fans going to restaurants, shopping in Cortez and staying in hotels.
“We’re not all horse and farm people,” said one racer. “This whole room is full of car guys. We are a racing community and help each other out.” Dedicated volunteers work on the racetrack, Felker said.