Schatz pulling out: West Fargo speedway’s future uncertainThe state of auto racing at Red River Valley Speedway is at a crossroads again. Three years ago, local business owner Danny Schatz swooped in and leased the track, operating it out of his own pocket. The moved saved the track from going defunct.
By: By Tom Mix, Forum Communications Co., The Jamestown Sun
WEST FARGO — The state of auto racing at Red River Valley Speedway is at a crossroads again.
Three years ago, local business owner Danny Schatz swooped in and leased the track, operating it out of his own pocket. The moved saved the track from going defunct.
On Thursday, Schatz and the Valley Racing Group announced it will not be renewing its lease agreement with the Red River Valley Fair Association to operate the Red River Valley Speedway.
The Valley Racing Group – which has leased the RRVS track the last three years – posted a release on the RRVS website that it would no longer be running the three-eighths of a mile dirt racing track and thanked fans for their support.
“We got several things going on in our business,” Schatz said. “We are very busy to start with, and the race track takes a lot of time and commitment. Although we wanted to do that, there were a few other issues and we just stood back and took a look at it and said we got so much going on. We are going to focus on other things.
“Although we enjoy the racing, maybe somebody who has more time to focus on it totally without so many things going on would be in the best interest for the local racers.”
That could spell trouble for the prospects of racing next season at the RRVS if no one steps forward to take the place of Schatz.
RRVFA general manager Bryan Schulz said his office had not received any formal statement from Schatz or the Valley Racing Group as of Thursday, but said the current lease officially expires Dec. 31 of this year.
“If (Schatz) decides not to continue the contract, the Red River Valley Fair Association is not going to at this time start racing,” Schulz said. “If somebody is interested, they would have to come forward. We are not going to actively look for someone to run it.”
The RRVFA operated the RRVS from the late-1980s to 2009. Schulz said the primary reason the RRVFA quit sponsoring racing was financial losses of around $40,000 a year.
It could be difficult for the track to find a leasing group that’s commitment and venture capital matches Schatz, who owns profitable fuel stations in Minot and Fargo.
During Schatz’s time leasing the RRVS, many restorations took place, including the track being shortened from a half-mile.
“That fairgrounds property was a big commitment for us,” said Schatz, who ran the Valley Racing Group with his wife, Diane, and other family members. “We tried to make it comfortable for everybody and we think we made some good improvements.”
If racing goes bust in West Fargo, local drivers’ closest option will be the Buffalo River Race Park in Glyndon, Minn.
The Valley Racing Group brought big names to the track, the biggest being three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart, whose auto racing company includes World of Outlaws standout driver Donny Schatz – Danny’s son.
Consistency in running dates season to season was an issue. The first year the races were held Friday nights, but in 2011 Schatz moved the action to Wednesday nights. Car counts were large on Wednesdays, but attendance saw a dip, so this season the decision was made to move racing to Saturday.
The Saturday dates conflicted with other tracks in the region, causing the RRVS to no longer be WISSOTA series sanctioned track.
The prospect of there being no racing at the RRVS is troubling to Casselton, N.D., A-Mods driver Rich Pavlicek, who said he has heard some drivers are considering quitting and selling their cars.
“I think it is terrible for Fargo and our community around here,” said Pavlicek, who is a salesman at Fargo Tire. “There are a lot of guys who only race Fargo because they don’t travel. … It’s bad for the community. Through my work, I do a lot of business with the racers. A lot more money goes into the community than what people think.”
A-Mods driver Bryce Borgen of Ada, Minn., said track conditions were also an issue at RRVS this season. Borgen was in the A-Mods points race all season, which kept him from racing at other tracks like Jamestown.
Promotions and advertising are important at most race tracks. Pavlicek said he had intentions of assisting Schatz for free in those departments, but now is left to wonder if racing will ever be a draw at RRVS again.
Schatz said he will continue to travel with his son’s World of Outlaws racing circuit.
“At this point we are comfortable to do other things,” Schatz said. “We just had enough.”
Mix is a sports writer at the Fargo Forum