It's a battle that gets played out on a routine basis around the country, noisy racetracks against area residents seeking peaceful Saturday nights. From New Jersey's Wall Stadium, to Boyd's Speedway in Georgia, to the now-defunct Mesa Marin Raceway in California, the issue of noise has been at the forefront of the racing industry, especially as once rural areas give way to suburban sprawl.
While suburban sprawl may have subsided thanks to the faltering economy, noise created by racetracks continues to be a political hot potato in many areas of the country. On one side are local residents who have no interest in racing; on the other side are the racetrack operators and racers whose livelihood, in many cases, relies on the track. The battle between the two is played out in front of county commissioners throughout the land.
The battle is not new as current ASA President Dennis Huth recalls. "Years ago I was on an environmental quality commission board in Oregon. The board represented all aspects of motorsports in dealing with the local and state governments. During those years, we had the CART races taking place at Portland International Raceway and right next door we had a huge home development (North Portland). Residents complained about the noise, not only of the CART show, but the dragstrip and the weekly (oval track) shows."
Dust flies at the Orange County...
Dust flies at the Orange County Fair Speedway in New York at the start of the 1997 Eastern States 200. The track and the fairgrounds that it sits on is currently for sale. Circle Track Archives
Huth said that pressure from the local communities put the EQC and the State on a path that could have severely impacted oval track racing in Oregon. "They decided to legislate rules that would require tracks to conform to dba readings down in the range of 79 or 80 decibels. Now that's nearly impossible, go out on a major roadway today and it'll be louder than that."
Huth and other representatives of the racing industry in Oregon collected data of what lumber mill whistles, jet airplanes at the airport, and other loud "disturbances" would register. "The whistles and the jets were both around 120 decibels, but when we presented the data the government's response was that those things were necessary, and they considered motorsports as non-necessary."
That put the burden on the racing community to show that it was a viable industry. They collected more data showing the number of people that made their living not only off of racing, but building engines, building and maintaining the tracks, and so on. Eventually, the state government decided that it was going to have three community meetings, one in Portland, one in Eugene, and one in Medford. As the first meeting date neared, Huth and his fellow motorsports professionals decided to hold a silent vigil at Portland international Raceway.
A muffler like this can go...
A muffler like this can go a long way in keeping residential neighbors to a racetrack happy. Circle Track Archives
"The vigil was going to have every type of race car representing all forms of motorsports displayed on open trailers. Representatives of motorsports support businesses would drive their vehicles around the track," said Huth. "Naturally, we called the press and told them what was going on and that the pending legislation was unfair, and racing was being picked on, and so on.
"The press showed up and at one point early in the evening, there was a guy pulling a drag race car. Behind the drag car was a rope that was pulling a cart and on the back of this cart was a young kid who was crying. The camera zooms in and the reporter began to ask the boy and his parent's questions."
What happened next, Huth said, was completely unscripted but the timing couldn't have been better. The boy said, "Daddy told me that they wanted me to stop racing and that's the only time I really get to see my Daddy."
The boy was literally saying that the government's desire to legislate racing noise levels to a point so low that the only solution would be to stop racing essentially takes away his time with his father," says Huth. "After that night, they cancelled every meeting and left us alone for however many years it's been."
What's a Decibel?
To really understand the noise argument, you first have to understand how decibels work, their relation to loudness, and the fundamental property of sound: intensity. Sound intensity is the rate at which energy is being carried by a sound wave through a given area. Sound intensity decreases inversely as the square of the distance from the sounds origin. For example, when the distance from the source is doubled, the energy is spread out spherically, over four times the area. Keep that in mind for a second.
Now the basic sound level scale is called the Bel, but because the values obtained are too large in the normal range of sound levels, the Decibel is commonly used (1dB = 0.1 Bel). A high sound level of 120 dB is generally regarded as the threshold of pain for the average human.