Rockford Speedway has been operational for 63 continuous years thanks to a proactive good
Today, Deery says that her biggest problem is when the track brings in Doug Rose's Green Mamba jet car to entertain fans. Rose uses the famous jet car from the '60s to set junk cars on fire in a fabulous show of fiery destruction. "The first time we did it the police department got calls because some neighbors thought that a plane crashed at the speedway."
Rockford has taken a very proactive approach to handling complaints about noise at the track. And still does. "If somebody does complain, we invite them to the speedway for an evening as our guest. It allows them to come see what we do and what we're all about," says Deery.
Now it gets complex Rockford was well established long before residential housing made its way to the track's doorstep. The same can't be said for Shenandoah Speedway in Virginia. "We took the toughest route we possibly could," says track founder Jeff Vaughan.
Vaughan grew up with a passion for racing, a passion that took him from a driving career to an ownership role, all the way up to the NASCAR Truck Series. Quickly tiring of the high cost of a national touring series, Vaughan opted to build a short track in his own backyard. After acquiring 118-acre tract of land in Paige County two miles outside the corporate limits, Vaughan built a 3/8-mile track that is bordered on one side by the Shenandoah River and the other by a mountain range. This beautiful setting would, however, cause Vaughan a lot of problems. Because of the amphitheatre style location of the facility, on a race night noise would travel 7-8 miles.
Flemington Speedway in New Jersey operated from 1915 to 2002. Circle Track Archives
Prior to building the track, Vaughan had gotten all of the proper permits from the County including a Special Use Permit that was signed off on by the County Board of Supervisors. Paige County's ordinance stated that once a Special Use Permit was granted, it would remain in force in perpetuity (which legally means forever). He thought he was in the clear.
"Our first race was open wheel Modifieds with open headers. We had 3,000 people in the stands and it was a great Saturday night show," explained Vaughan. "The next day we had three of our neighbors show up at the track asking what we were going to do about the noise."
The number of neighbors complaining grew to about 12. Those neighbors successfully pressured the county into modifying Vaughan's permit in such a way that it would have effectively put him out of business.
"I'm not this kind of person but I had to sue the local government," said Vaughan.
Fortunately, his lawyer had the case heard in the adjoining county and that Judge sided with the racetrack. However, the judgment did say that that the county had the option of rewriting the ordinance.
Here, cars pull onto the front stretch for the start of the Flemington 200 dirt race. The
By this time, the original Board of Supervisors who granted Vaughan the first permit was no longer in power and a new Board had been elected. That Board successfully changed the ordinance giving it the right to set time limits on Special Use Permits.
During this time, Vaughan made it a point to work with the new Board to avoid any further lawsuits. But in order to keep Shenandoah open for racing, Vaughan had to hire an acoustical engineer to do a sound model which involved creating an aerial typography map of the land. In addition, he had to purchase two sound monitors; one to be placed at the track and one placed in the community that was complaining.
The results of the study and its subsequent presentation to the Board of Supervisors led to a settlement stating all engines on Shenandoah race cars had to have mufflers and the noise level of a single car passing by can't exceed 80 decibels when recorded at the track's property line.
All told, just to get the new permit to operate cost Vaughan $94,000. It was a long, hard, and expensive battle that, at least for the time being, has subsided. Vaughan says that he expects situations like his to get worse for tracks regardless of how long they've been established and that it's imperative for track owners to work closely with the economic development arms of their local communities.
In an ironic twist, Shenandoah Speedway won the 2008 Paige County Tourism and Business of the Year Award and recently Vaughan ran for and got elected to the County Board of Supervisors. "I guess it's the old saying coming true . . . if you can't beat 'em, join 'em."