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Ben Smith

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Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette
Baer Field Speedway will sit quiet this season after promoter Jon Raney announced Wednesday he is closing the track.

Track’s closed? Say it ain’t so

– This can’t be how it ends, with the place shuttered and quiet on America’s loudest weekend, with a roar that comes down across half a century stilled at the height of summer, just when it should be in full throat.

It can’t end the way it ended at Fort Wayne Speedway and South Anthony Speedway and a hundred other gone places, all those smoky Saturday night lights testifying to the fact that speed is in the American gene. It can’t end, not after a thousand summer nights with Moose Myers and Tom Wible, not after Bobby Unser and his brother Al and half of NASCAR passing through on the way to Darlington and points south.

It can’t end. Can it?

But out there at Baer Field Speedway, the big Fourth of July doubleheader weekend is off, and all subsequent weekends for the foreseeable future. The promoter, Jon Raney, has closed the doors, saying he’s gotten so crosswise with the drivers the situation has become intolerable.

“It’s a rebel atmosphere,” Raney says.

And, OK, so you take the man at his word, even if short-track America has always been rebel-occupied territory.

Blood feuds spring up and die stubbornly. Hard words are remembered. If racing down at the grassroots has always been a family proposition – second and third generations wheeling through the same corners their daddies and granddaddies did – it’s also been no-quarter.

Occasionally, you get crosswise with the promoters. Although not like this, apparently.

“Me, personally, I didn’t really have a problem with Jon,” Baer Field regular Scott Coe said Thursday morning. “I wasn’t really upset (with the rule changes that precipitated the quarrel), but I just didn’t think they went about it in the right way.

“We’d been doing things a certain way for years and years, and what they were trying to accomplish was actually what the rules dictated.”

The problem, Coe says, is that the changes were sprung on everyone without much warning. Had there been a driver’s meeting to give everyone more of a heads-up, he thinks, there wouldn’t have been nearly as many hard feelings.

“The problem is, then people get mad and they go on Facebook and start bashing, and that’s when it all gets started,” he says.

And where does it end?

If you’re the Coes, who are three generations deep in racing at Baer Field, you go up to Angola or you hit the modified circuit they used to travel for years. And you hope, as Coe puts it, that someone “picks up the torch” out at Baer Field.

“You know, since Jon has taken it over, … I felt it was going in the right way. I just felt like it was in the right hands and going in the right direction,” he says. “So to see this happen was pretty devastating.”

Sure. Coe will survive – “If all the racetracks in America shut down tomorrow, Scott Coe would be OK,” he says – but it’s the generation that’s coming up he worries about. Baer Field isn’t the only short track going dark across the country. Where will the training grounds come from for the kids like his son, Austin?

“That’s the biggest thing,” Coe says.

That and those 51 years. This can’t be how it ends, not after half a century. It can’t be.

Can it?

Ben Smith has been covering sports in Fort Wayne since 1986. His columns appear four times a week. He can be reached by email at bensmith@jg.net; phone, 461-8736; or fax 461-8648.

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