citybeat (2006-49)

Emotions run high over racetrack closing, sale to trucking firm

Wednesday, Nov. 29

Rezoning Threats and Threats

Atomic Speedway has detonated, according to its owner, Ed Adams. The Lenoir City businessman has held his last race there, he says, and is selling it to Crete Carrier Corp., the giant trucking firm, if the Roane County Commission approves its rezoning.

Before the rezoning question went to the county’s planning commission, which approved it by a 7-1 vote last week, the proposed sale brought real estate broker Chip Miller death threats, so high is the emotion over the 36-year-old track’s demise.

Asked about the threats following the planning commission session, Miller said, “You could certainly call [them] that. There’s been a couple of them.” But he was stoic about it. “It comes with the business,” he said of rezoning requests that generate fervent opposition.

In the case of Atomic, the rezoning issue brought about 125 protestors to the Roane County Courthouse the evening of Nov. 29. The grim-faced group of men, women and children filled the 50 seats in an erstwhile courtroom, lined the walls around its perimeter and spilled out into a hallway. Smiles were rare, even when they were talking among themselves. They nodded or shook their heads in assent and applauded occasionally as about a dozen of their number took to the podium to address the planning commission with their reasons the track should not be closed and bulldozed and the trucking firm should not be allowed to set up a terminal and refueling facility there.

Crete, based in Lincoln, Neb., wants to consolidate its Knoxville operations, now off Pellissippi Parkway in Knox County, on the Speedway’s 26 acres, to park, refuel and perform maintenance on an average of about 50-to-60 trucks a day, with a few night operations, according to Larry “Pete” Petr , Crete’s Knoxville accounting manager. Miller, with R.M. Moore Real Estate Co. in Knoxville, told the commissioners the truck terminal would employ about 50, 25 of them in new jobs, and its investment of more than $50 million would generate more than five times the $7,588 in property taxes now paid by the racetrack. Among the nation’s largest over-the-road haulers, Crete’s tractors pull more than 9,600 freight trailers, recognizable by their big, red 1 logo bearing the CCC imprint, across the country, with 24 terminals in 18 states.

At issue, to the protestors, is the noise, light, and truck traffic they expect to be generated, 24-7, by the truck terminal; possible contamination of the ground water; and a decline in neighboring property values along the Roane-Loudon County line west of Route 95 and right against the north edge of Interstate 40 where the track is located. It’s near a new I-40 exit under construction and adjacent to the Roane Regional Industrial Park, where H.T. Hackney relocated from Knoxville two years ago. Hackney moved there amid a similar zoning squabble when Ritta community residents opposed its proposed warehousing and distribution center proposal for Washington Pike in Knox County. 

And there’s the institution of the speedway. Sandra Stout, who publishes the weekly Roane Reader at Harriman and writes a racing column in it, told the planning commissioners that she, as a former member of the Harriman City Council and that city’s planning commission, “would love to have Crete in Roane County, but there are a lot better locations in the county for it.” She pointed out that the track is known nationwide. It’s billed as the fastest one-third mile dirt track in the country.

 Its regular Friday night racing programs have been losing money during the two years Adams has owned it. “I’ve invested my life savings and borrowed money to keep it going,” Adams said. He said that, from the start, he eliminated alcohol at the track and worked to cut down on the fights that had characterized racing (and fan participation) there from time to time. “We tried everything we knew to save the racing program,” he said, but he’s given up.

Adams presented the planning commission with a petition in support of the rezoning signed by 150 persons he said owned property within five miles of the track. A petition whose presenter said bore the signatures of 1,500 Roane and Loudon County residents opposed to the rezoning was also handed to the planning commission chairman.

Stout, who comes from a racing family, countered that other short tracks in East Tennessee are making money “because they have good programs and treat their drivers right. A smart businessman could make that racetrack a success.” She got a huge round of applause from the gallery.

Atomic was featured in a July 5 Metro Pulse article on bullring racing in East Tennessee. It was mentioned then that Atomic was for sale and had attracted no racing investors but had offers from industry.

Zoned commercial, the track site would have to be rezoned industrial for the refueling that would be done at the Crete terminal. The rezoning now goes to the Roane County Commission for approval or rejection. If approved and the site inspection goes to Crete’s satisfaction, the deal would close Jan. 20, Miller said.

Planning Commission Chairman Allen Williams told his fellow commissioners after their meeting adjourned: “We made a hard decision tonight, but that’s what we sit here for.” He said the county commission session on it will be “interesting.”

“That’s Dec. 11, 6:30 p.m., right here in the courthouse,” shouted a disgruntled woman to her cohorts as they filed out of the hearing. “We’ll be there,” was their chant. Want to bet they show up?


Wednesday, Nov. 29

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