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Baer Field track closed

Owner cites drivers’ ‘rebel atmosphere’; speedway in limbo

– Baer Field Speedway promoter Jon Raney said finances had nothing to do with his decision Wednesday to cease operations, effective immediately.

Instead, Raney cited poisonous relations with drivers as his reason for cutting ties.

“It’s a rebel atmosphere,” said Raney, 50, who took over as promoter in 2012 after the 20-year run of Tom Isch.

The remainder of this season is canceled, and the future of racing at the 51-year-old track is in doubt, according to program manager Bob Koorsen.

“Very,” Koorsen said. “It was less than two years ago that the track was slowing down before Isch retired.”

With Raney shutting it down, the struggling facility enters a period of indefinite limbo. Raney owns the lease on the property for another three years and said he will continue to make payments.

While he does not intend to actively search for a buyer over the next year, Raney said he would accept the right offer should it come along, though he does not anticipate that happening.

“There’s talk the lease could go back to the property owner, and he’d bring someone else in,” Koorsen said. “When Tom retired, there was not a big, long line of people stepping forward to take over the lease and run the place.

“It might be a deal where it takes until next year for people to take it over. It won’t be a simple undertaking to change to somebody else.”

Raney said he reached a tipping point when he received personal threats, some delivered toward the trucking company he owns, Jonny-on-the-Spot Delivery Service.

For months, Raney said, drivers had issued public complaints about Baer Field and its management on social media sites.

“They’re sniping left and right on Facebook,” Raney said. “If you’re a family, you’re not going to bring your kids out into this jungle.”

Raney, a former racer, oversaw sweeping changes, with modernized facilities; a project to clean and freshen up the facility; increases to the weekly prize money; and new shows aimed at bringing in new fans.

Raney said he felt all of that time and effort had gone to waste and that his passion for the sport had taken a hit as a result of his experiences.

“The personal tax on me and my family was too much,” he said. “More than anything, I was tired of drivers and pit crews badgering us. If we called a race because of rain, we were the worst people in the world.”

Baer Field endured five consecutive weeks of cancellations this season.

Koorsen said, like last season, the events that were held were not profitable.

Raney chalked up the loss of multiple sponsors to negativity from drivers.

“Who would want to come out there when the drivers make it look so bad,” said Raney, who said he asked them to stop. “It’s a bunch of keyboard cowards.”

He said drivers complained about new safety mandates from the insurance company and stricter rules. But Raney said it’s when things went beyond the track that he decided to get away.

County court records show Raney filed suit in February against Jeremy Harlow, a former pit crew worker whom Raney said came to his home and tried to assault Raney.

The track opened in 1963 as Sportsman’s Park, a one-fifth-mile paved road course for go-karts and officially became Baer Field Speedway the next year when the half-mile asphalt oval opened on 45 acres of land leased from owner John Weisenauer.

Over the next half-century, the place saw some things.

Eight NASCAR champions and a dozen Daytona 500 winners have run Baer Field. Ditto four Indianapolis 500 winners (Bobby and Al Unser Sr., Gordon Johncock, Johnny Rutherford). In September 1965, Bobby Unser set a track record for sprint cars that stood for 12 years.

“You hope a facility that’s been around this long will continue,” Koorsen said. “Hopefully, it will be a bump in the road, which the track has had before. You just don’t know.”

cgoff@jg.net

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