The Metro Board of Fair Commissioners will be hiring a new auto racing operator after its current speedway lessee breached a contract with the board, capping off what some already called a disappointing racing season.
Former NASCAR driver Bobby Hamilton Jr., who the fair board contracted in April to hold races at the fairgrounds speedway for the 2011 season, still owes the board $25,600 of a $53,100 payment that was due Oct. 30, state fair director Buck Dozier told commissioners Tuesday morning.
Eyeing the 2012 racing season, the fair board plans to consider proposals from other racing promoters at a Dec. 6 meeting. Three people have expressed interest in leasing the racetrack: former NASCAR legend Sterling Marlin; Tony Formosa, who leased the track before Hamilton; and Ron Jennette.
“We’re going to go through the process in December, just as we did in April, and go through each line of the contract, with both the race operators and all interested parties in the room,” board chair Katy Varney said, adding that includes input from the surrounding neighborhood.
Hamilton, according to Dozier, recently had three checks owed to the board –– for $750, $8,000 and $6,000, respectively –– bounce. That triggered a collections agency to get involved. Unclear whether payments were to go to Metro or the collections agency, Hamilton was unable to make subsequent payments.
“He’s indicated he’s going to pay it,” Dozier said.
Dozier confirmed to The City Paper that Marlin, one of the three racing bidders, had discussed assuming Hamilton’s debt in order to take over the speedway’s operations in 2012. However, Dozier said that scenario would be contingent on the board guaranteeing Marlin the lease: “We can’t do that,” he said.
Several racing enthusiasts spoke up at Tuesday’s morning to demand things change for the next racing season. The past year was seen as a major disappointment for the fairgrounds speedway, with Hamilton canceling the popular All American 400, the season’s final race. Some have said Hamilton was handicapped by unfair board mandates –– limiting night racing, for example.
Newly elected Metro Councilman Tony Tenpenny, speaking before the board Tuesday, called the 2011 racing season “dismal,” adding, “It was set up to fail.”
Following the meeting, Varney suggested the speedway is difficult to navigate financially.
“It’s hard to make a profit off of this race track,” Varney said. “I’m very sorry for what’s happened with Bobby Hamilton. We’ve enjoyed a very good working relationship with him, and I’m sorry for him, financially, that this has been so difficult.
“We have certainly all the protections in place that are needed for the city,” she said of the money still owed to the board. “I don’t have any worries in that respect.”
In other business Tuesday, the fair board agreed to re-hire the Tennessee State Fair Association –– a group of state agriculture, tourism and political leaders –– to operate the 2012 state fair.
The group, led by chair John Rose, operated the 2011 state fair in September. The event produced low attendance figures, in part because the board hired the state fair association only two months before the event.
For the 2012 event, the state fair association will have 10 months to prepare.