VOL. 126 | NO. 172 | Friday, September 2, 2011
Back on Track
By Aisling Maki
After sitting silently in neutral for nearly two years, the roar of racecars once again fills the air at Memphis International Raceway – formerly known as Memphis Motorsports Park – and its reopening is expected to drive economic gains for surrounding businesses.
Racers take to the quarter-mile drag racing track at Memphis International Raceway for a weekly test and tune session.
(Photo: Lance Murphey)
The facility, located at 5500 Victory Lane in an unincorporated area near Millington, reopened Aug. 21, with a select group of about 15 racers venturing out to test the track and ensure it was ready to open to the public. The first Test-and-Tune, an event open to drivers of all makes and models, was held on Aug. 23.
“We’ve gotten a ton of positive feedback – a lot of excitement,” said Pam Kendrick, vice president and general manager of Memphis International Raceway. “This area has an astronomical amount of racers, and they’ve had to go to other locations to race. So now they’re able to come back home and race, and there’s been a lot of excitement in the area.”
First opened in 1987, the park was developed by a group of local investors as a drag strip with an adjacent road course, dirt track and go-kart track. In 1996, Memphis Motorsports Park was acquired by the Grand Prix Association of Long Beach, which built a three-quarter-mile paved oval on the site of the dirt track.
In 1999, Dover Motorsports Inc. bought the park in connection with its purchase of the Grand Prix Association of Long Beach. The property was owned and managed by Dover affiliate Memphis International Motorsports Corp. until the company decided to close the facility in October 2009.
Sold to a new ownership group, the racetrack hit the auction block in December 2010 and was secured by the highest bidder, Joe Lubeck of Moroso Investment Partners, for roughly $2 million.
That group, led by managing partners Lubeck and Michael Dezer and president and CEO Jason Rittenberry – who ran Memphis Motorsports Park for more than a decade – also operates the Jupiter, Fla.-based Palm Beach International Raceway.
So far, the facility hasn’t changed much physically. Some repairs were made to the drag strip, the road course has been brought back up to par with pavement restoration, and the concession stands and restrooms have been upgraded with a fresh look.
Driver Danny Nelson waits in the staging area of the quarter-mile drag racing track at Memphis International Raceway for a weekly test and tune session.
(Photo: Lance Murphey)
But the company has plans for infrastructure changes and the addition of some facilities down the road, according to Kendrick, who previously served as senior director of administration and finance of the facility under Dover Motorsports ownership.
She said the new staff will work to bring back some of the major events the facility has hosted in the past, as well as operate the successful weekly events and series that were a staple at the facility for many years.
For now, entertainment will center on the facility’s drag strip and road course. The drag strip will hold several weekly events, including test and tunes, and a monthly Midnight Madness event.
Kendrick said there will continue to be a focus on producing events that will attract families, such as a Halloween-themed event scheduled for Oct. 27-28.
The paved oval is not yet opened for events; for now, it’s only open for testing by NASCAR and other sanctioning bodies.
But Memphis International Raceway plans to bring in about 10 to15 special or national events next year, including an IHRA-sanctioned drag racing event that Kendrick said “will build a lot of excitement in the community because it will be a weeklong event.”
“The main goal is to be able to enter into the market as an establishment in 2011,” Kendrick said. “2012 is really going to be our full-schedule year.”
Kendrick said she’s had many encouraging conversations with local businesses, including hotels. The racetrack has already developed a promotional partnership with the Quality Inn of Millington, and Kendrick said she anticipates additional partnerships moving forward.
“Our being here has a significant investment in this town, as far as economic impact – especially for the hotels,” she said. “When this place sat dormant and wasn’t operating, the hotels were not seeing the business they had seen prior to our facility closing. It’s just been a very uplifting time for Millington.”
Teri Flanagan of the Millington Chamber of Commerce said she’s thrilled about the reopening and rebranding of the racetrack.
“The impact on the community is going to be phenomenal because it not only brings in money from the people who live in this town, but it brings in a lot of tourist dollars from out of town people who stay for a couple of days and spend their money in our town at the raceway, at restaurants and businesses,” Flanagan said. “It increases economic development and job creation.”