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.
Rockford Speedway has been...
Rockford Speedway has been operational for 63 continuous years thanks to a proactive good neighbor community approach by the track management. Circle Track Archives
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...
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...
Here, cars pull onto the front stretch for the start of the Flemington 200 dirt race. The track saw much success as a dirt track but continuously lost money after being paved in late 1990. It ultimately closed on November 8, 2002, and was sold off to developers and demolished in early January 2005. Today a Lowe's Home Improvement store sits where many of the biggest names in racing history once wheeled a car. Circle Track Archives
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."
Mufflers-Not necessarily a Bad Thing
This vintage shot of Stafford...
This vintage shot of Stafford Speedway in Connecticut shows just how close to the track houses are. Can you see the group of fans with the birdseye view of the races? Even so, the track has continued to operate since just after World War II. Circle Track Archives
Mufflers were once thought to be the demise of short track racing. Stiffling the loud thump of big American V-8s would certainly make racing boring for the fans sitting in the grandstands and they would, in turn, stay away in droves. But quite the contrary as track operators around the country have found out.
"It adds another dimension to racing," says Huth. "If you add mufflers and take away some of the bark from the cars, all of a sudden the announcer becomes a bigger component of that race. He can sell hot dogs, he can sell sponsorships, he can keep people informed of what's going on with the racing. If the racing is unmuffled a lot of times he's just a distant murmur in the background."
The ASA Midwest Tour requires all of its cars to run mufflers and meet a 95-decibel rule. Any car not meeting the 95-decibel sound rule will not race and that is clearly stated in the rules. Guess what? That rule hasn't hurt competition at all, the tour is one of the most successful Asphalt Late Model tours in the country producing full fields and strong crowds on a consistent basis.
NASCAR's Craftsman Truck Series...
NASCAR's Craftsman Truck Series rolls off in front of a packed crowd at the now-defunct Mesa Marin Raceway in Bakersfield, California. Back in the formative years of the Truck Series, the race trucks ran mufflers since they visited many short tracks in populated areas. Mesa Marin would give way to suburban sprawl, being sold to developers in 2005. Circle Track Archives
As we found out in the dyno testing phase of Project G.R.E.E.N., adding restriction to the exhaust, in our case catalytic convertors, changed the shape of the torque curve at lower rpm. The increased back pressure produced more torque, albeit slight. Theoretically, the same would hold true if the cats were replaced with mufflers-something we intend on finding out in further testing. So, in essence muffling race cars can have benefits to the racer, track, and surrounding community.
The Bottom Line
Several years ago the State of New Jersey attempted to pass a blanket noise ordinance that would force the tracks in the state to abide by specific operating times and noise levels regardless of their geographic location. Blanket rules such as that are the path of least resistance for politicians to take in attempts to appease voters. However, while it may work in populated areas, it penalizes those tracks in very rural areas. Therefore, it's very important for each track operator, no matter what type of track they are, or how long they've been there, to work within the community and the local government officials to come up with a working arrangement that satisfies everybody.
Want to build a new track...
Want to build a new track and don't want to be concerned about waking up the neighbors? Get out into the country, just like the folks who built Phoenix International Raceway. You can see it off in the distance of the desert hills of Arizona. You can bet they've never had a noise complaint. Circle Track Archives
For racetracks, new or old, that are experiencing pressure from local residents concerning noise, the track management must take a proactive approach as a member of the community much like Jody Deery has done at Rockford. Adding things like hedges and trees or man-made noise barriers, as well as running mufflers on the cars shows surrounding communities that the track is trying to be a good neighbor.
An important aspect of this is that as racers, we are part of the track. Promoters should regard the racers who come to their track to spend money and put on a good show for the fans as part of their family. And racers should feel the same way-we're all in this together. There are a lot of things that you as a racer can do to ensure your track's survival if it is getting pressure from local communities. But it starts with an open line of communication with the track operator.
Offer to go to meetings with the town to show your support of the track. Bring your race car to the local school and give a talk to the kids about racing and how it can positively impact their lives by teaching good sportsmanship, teamwork, discipline, and the rewards of hard work. Get involved with local government committees and get to know your local politicians and the platforms on which they run. Then don't forget to exercise your right to vote come election day. The survival of your local track may just depend on it.
The cars of the ASA Midwest...
The cars of the ASA Midwest Tour feature mufflers on their 520 horsepower motors. Here, No. 71, Blake Brown, and No. 43, Matt Kocourek, do battle at Illiana Speedway. Doug Hornickel
Let's say that a person is exposed to a sound level of 120 dB at a distance of 10 meters from the sound's source, 10 meters being the standard measurement to determine dB ratings. If that person moves 10 more meters away from the source you might expect that dB rating to drop in half, after all the person moved twice as far from the source, right? Wrong. Remember that sound intensity decreases inversely as you get farther from the source.
Using a logarithm based mathematical formula, we can determine that the person above would experience a dB level of 114 if they moved the additional 10 meters away. This is one reason why when a non muffled race motor being fired across the pits still sounds really loud.
Decibels are not cumulative either. And this fact is perhaps more important to the racetrack argument. For example, let's say that you have a Dirt Late Model, an ASA Midwest Tour-style Late Model, and a four-cylinder Bomber all lined up on a track.
The DLM has an 800-plus-hp Roush-Yates Engine and no muffler. The ASA car has a 520hp 2bbl motor with a muffler, while the Bomber has its production EFI four-cylinder.
The cars of the ARCA series...
The cars of the ARCA series do not run mufflers, but at the same time many of the tracks they race at are in rural areas. Todd Ridgeway
All three cars are fired up at the same time. The Yates-powered car trips the dB meter at 105 decibels, the ASA car hits 95, and the Bomber hit 70. (Note these are not actual numbers, but hypothetical to make a point). With all three cars running, a person standing 10 meters away will not hear 270 decibels worth of noise. They'll only hear the noise from the highest dB reading motor.
However, studies have shown that if multiple cars are running on the track at the same time, each additional car will add anywhere from 3-5 decibels of noise. The real trick is that there are numerous ways to measure and analyze decibels. But at the heart of the issue is the fact that noise is, by and large, a subjective thing. What bothers me may not bother you.
So What's the Problem?
Neighboring residents who complain about racetracks fall into two basic categories-those who move into a new neighborhood which was built near an existing racetrack, or those who live in a neighborhood where a new racetrack is built. The former seems on the surface to be a pretty straightforward situation. A new residential community is built near an existing racetrack. The track was there first and operational for decades as in the case of Wall Stadium in New Jersey or Rockford Speedway in Illinois. The argument is simple: new residents had to know that the racetrack was there and that race cars are loud, right?
These big block Super Modifieds...
These big block Super Modifieds are some of the loudest race cars around and don't run mufflers. Todd Ridgeway
True, but the problem can go deeper than that. Take, for example, the weekly track that runs every Saturday night, but also allows teams to rent the track for testing on say a Wednesday afternoon. New residents who may understand that the track runs on Saturday likely may not ever consider that the track would be used during the week. This is especially true if the new residents are not familiar with our industry.
Rockford Speedway, one of the oldest racetracks in the country, is a perfect example of that type of situation. Built in 1948, the high banked quarter-mile oval is in its 63rd year of continuous racing. Although located on the very northern outskirts of the town of Loves Park (a Rockford suburb), several years ago the housing boom and suburban expansion brought residential developments within shouting distance of the racetrack. As the new houses began to fill up with families, some noise complaints followed. Track operator Jody Deery said that they found out one of the realtors selling houses told prospective buyers that the racetrack was going out of business, a fact far from the truth.
After that rumor was put to rest, Deery said that overcoming neighbors concerns was as simple as doing what was right. "We try to be good neighbors," she says. "We do not run too late, and we keep open communication with the residents. It helps a lot if they know you're trying to be a good neighbor."
Interestingly, that good neighbor policy began years ago when, as a state, Illinois began looking at regulating noise. "We added mufflers to our cars years ago," says Deery. "Our commercial neighbors never complained."
In addition, she said that they planted trees around the speedway and added large billboards around the track. Both the trees and billboards served to buffer noise to the local community by directing the sound from the cars upwards, but the billboards had an added benefit. They allowed the speedway an additional way to gain revenue by selling advertising on the billboards.