Saying goodbye to an 'old friend'...maybe
Saying goodbye to an old friend can be hard. You think about great memories, difficult times and hopefully a bunch of laughs. Hopefully, there is also a feeling that good things may come from it. That's my hope regarding the closing of Miller MotorSports Park here in Tooele County.
For those that don't know me, I've had an open and notorious love affair with this place since it opened in 2006. For those of you that DO know me, I think I got a call, a text or an email from all of you when the news broke Friday morning. I heard condolences from many, teasing from others and concerns for my well being from all.
You see, this place became the centerpiece for some of the most memorable times in my life. Berna and I discovered our shared love of racing of all kinds when we attended our first race here, the '06 ALMS 'Utah Grand Prix'. That led to trips from coast to coast to watch 'our guys' in sports car and NASCAR. We've been to ( and driven our own car on) Laguna Seca in beautiful Monterey Ca. Thanks to my mom's interest, we've made the long drive across the country to Daytona for the Rolex24 hour a couple of times, and will continue doing that. We've been to races in Phoenix and Vegas. I love this time with my wife, and she does too.
I re-discovered my childhood love of all things Porsche because of the Porsche Club of America coming to MMP several times a year. How much do I love them? I've bought 3 since 2007, and keep 1 just to drive on the track for high speed drivers education events. You ought to see the 'Car Room' set up in my spare bedroom...yeah, it's an obsession.
Finally, MMP gave my mom and I something to share in her final 5 years on earth. She bought an Audi in '06, and part of the deal was a track day with driver instruction. In conjunction with that event, Berna and I brought her to that first race. She was hooked! In addition to driving in several more track days, this petite 65 yr old cancer survivor became Tony Stewart's biggest NASCAR fan, going to races to watch him, driving to North Carolina to tour his shop, pretty much becoming his biggest stalker. In late 2011, after having been diagnosed for the 4th and final time with breast cancer, one of her final wishes was for me to take her for a ride around MMP in 'Penolope', my '87 Porsche. Even though it was December, and the track was closed for winter, the great folks at MMP opened the gate on a cold cloudy day and gave us an amazing half hour to destroy a set of tires on the east course. Her laughter (and swearing) will be a happy memory I'll always treasure.
My initial reaction to the closure announcement was shock and surprise, much like everyone else. The Miller family did a great job of hiding this from nearly everyone. But, as I think back, the signs were there. The financial losses that had been there since day one hadn't abated, and without someone with the passion for cars and racing that Larry H. Miller had, it was really only a matter of time. The people of Utah in general and Tooele County in particular never embraced MMP. There are still businesses in our area that have no idea why their sales went up on certain weekends. I've gotten messages from people that actually thought it was a part of the Deseret Peak Rec Complex and are worried that the swimming pool won't open this summer...No comment on that one. The final clue that something was coming was when they offered up their adjacent property to the state for a new prison site. We could see the writing, but didn't want to.
So, the question becomes what happens now? By the terms of the lease, the property and all it's buildings and facilities revert to Tooele County. The initial investment by the Millers was reportedly well over 100 million. They've improved the place a ton since then, with lots of new buildings, an off road facility, a beautiful administration building (with a large tenant) and a zip line. There are also many businesses that are headquartered in the garage space on the property. They all want to know what's up. But, the issue is even bigger for the people of our county
Rumor has it that the impact to our local economy will be in the millions. The property and sales taxes generated by the track itself should be well over 1 million per year. When you consider the size of the county budget, that's significant. Add in 200 full-time employees, with roughly half of them being local, and the 600 part time employees and the loss of their employment and you start to see that this is bigger than just the memories of one race fan.
I have a prediction, perhaps influenced by rose colored glasses. County government has proved in the past that they don't belong in the recreation business. It's doubly reinforced when you consider that actual business people couldn't make it work, so government...well you know what I mean.
I believe our new group of Commissioners understand this. They also understand that they have an asset here that they can actually market to entities that KNOW how to run a facility such as this, an asset that someone else spent the money to create. It's all upside for them, IF they don't get greedy or silly. Because of the timing of the announcement, they have roughly 10 months to come up with a plan. It's my understanding that they are already having conversations with parties interested in doing something with this state of the art track. And trust me, it's as good a facility as any track anywhere.
So, what about those of us that use the track on a regular basis? That's easy. I'm going to drive the wheels off of Penelope between now and November. It's created an urgency that I haven't felt for awhile, because I took this place for granted. I should know better. After that, who knows? Well, maybe a trip to Daytona in January will make me feel better.
Goodbye old friend. Thanks for everything you've done for me. Wish we could have all done something more for you.
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