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Editorial: Race track stalls out

Gentlemen, don’t start your engines. With the ouster of High Rock International Raceway principal Dave Risdon last week, the proposed road-racing course took yet another lurching turn. Now, Risdon has finally acknowledged what many had begun to suspect years ago, as the project encountered delay after delay. The money isn’t there to fund Risdon’s once-expansive dream of a country club for gearheads, and it may never be.
That’s a major disappointment for many people, including investors, Risdon’s business partners, the Spencer and Rowan officials who have put much time and effort into helping the track’s backers negotiate their way through permits and regulations and the former workers of the N.C. Finishing (later, Color-Tex) plant. This is an especially cruel turn of events for the latter, who had hoped that the track designed for high-rollers able to put up $25,000-$50,000 stakes might be the mechanism that finally brought the modest final payments they were due after abruptly losing their jobs. Nine years after the plant closed, they’re still waiting for a final settlement.
Today’s unpromising prospects for the track’s completion stand in stark contrast to the high hopes that greeted its announcement back in 2005. At that time, Risdon vowed to build one of the most exciting road courses in the world. It would be the hub of a motorsports complex that would be part racing center and part resort, with privately owned racing chalets, guest cottages and an RV campground. Plans called for the track to be completed in 2006, with the first races in 2007. Even as delays occurred and the project was scaled down, Risdon continued issuing upbeat assessments. In June 2007, Autoweek magazine included membership in the raceway on a list of Father’s Day gift suggestions for gearhead dads. A set of sockets would have been more realistic.
Obviously, Dave Risdon can’t control the economy, and this isn’t the only local motorsports project to hit the wall. Last year, plans were shelved for a $63 million wind tunnel that had been proposed as a spinoff to the Toyota Racing Division engineering shop. After Rowan County officials approved an incentives plan for the wind tunnel, its backers pulled the plug, citing the economy and financing complications. Now, major automakers are cutting back racing sponsorship, which will further jeopardize motorsports-related enterprises.
However, Risdon could have been more candid about the financial obstacles he faced and the increasingly tenuous nature of the race track’s timetable. That wouldn’t have changed the outcome, but it might have helped officials decide how much effort to put into the enterprise and, perhaps more importantly, how much focus to put on its potential for revving up future economic development. This project had a lot of hype and raised a lot of hopes.
Those hopes may not have crashed and burned entirely, but more than four years after its announcement, High Rock Raceway is still sitting at the starting line, and time may finally have run out.

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