The auto racing community on the Kenai Peninsula is reacting to the possible interruption of drag racing this summer by bonding together to come up with a solution.
Unfortunately for area race fans, that solution may be two or three drag racing-less years away.
Fortunately for area race fans, that solution envisions a permanent motor sports facility on the peninsula with areas for drag racing, stock-car racing, motocross, BMX and skateboarding. The area also could be used by snowmachiners in the winter.
One of the driving forces behind the move to create a permanent motor sports facility is the difficulty the Kenai Peninsula Racing Lions are having with securing a user permit for the Soldotna Municipal Airport this summer.
"There won't be any drag racing on the peninsula unless the city of Soldotna and the airport commission work miracles with the (Federal Aviation Administration)," said Wendy Hudson, the vice president of the drag racing division of the Racing Lions. "We've spent a couple of months working on a user permit and it just has not gotten anywhere."
Steve Bonebrake, the director of public works and the airport manager for the city of Soldotna, said the FAA said the Soldotna Municipal Airport is growing, and that it's time to limit nonaviation use.
"The FAA basically pulled approval for all motorized vehicles using the asphalt," Bonebrake said.
Bonebrake said he made a request to the FAA that the Racing Lions be approved, and the FAA denied that request.
Richard Cockroft, the director of the drag racing division of the Racing Lions, said he plans to fight that ruling. But he also said drag racing at the Soldotna Municipal Airport this summer is definitely up in the air.
Hudson also said the McGahan Industrial Airport in Nikiski, where drag racing has been held in the past, is out because the surface is no longer suitable.
With the future of drag racing at the Soldotna Municipal Airport in doubt and drag racing at the McGahan Industrial Airport out, drag racers are looking for a more stable place to race.
With that in mind, the Alaska Circle Track Association, which had been running stock-car racing at Twin Cities Raceway for over 10 years, voted on April 5 to dissolve its board and to join the Kenai Peninsula Racing Lions.
The plan for the Alaska Circle Track Association is to ride out its current lease with the borough, which expires April 24, and then use a raffle to pay off its remaining debts. Once all this is done, the Alaska Circle Track Association will be done.
The Lions now have a drag-racing, motocross and stock-car division.
"We're much stronger now that we're all together," Hudson said. "We're all working toward the goal of that permanent motor sports facility."
The Lions want to have the facility on the land where Twin Cities Raceway is currently located. This parcel is located off Shotgun Drive in Kenai.
Both the stock-car and the motocross divisions will have races there this summer. The first stock-car race is scheduled for May 17.
But Hudson said building a drag strip on the property is a project that will cost $200,000 and could take several years.
The first step in the project will be for the Lions to secure a less-than-fair-value lease from the Kenai Peninsula Borough, which owns the property.
According the Richard McGahan, the director of the stock-car division for the Lions, in the 1960s stock-car racers had a lease on the current parcel for almost 160 acres.
But as the price of the lease has risen, stock-car racers have leased less and less acreage. Last year, the Alaska Circle Track Association paid $3,640 for 55 acres. This year, the cost will be $4,850 for those 55 acres.
Tuesday, the Lions proposed the idea of a less-than-fair lease to a work session of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly at the Borough Building in Soldotna. The Lions wanted to see if any assembly members had a problem with it.
Hudson said the Lions will proceed with trying to get the less-than-fair value lease. The lease will have to be for the original size of almost 160 acres in order to fit the drag strip. After taking care of the lease, Hudson said the Lions can go about getting all the grants that would be needed for a drag strip that will be over $200,000.
"It's going to take two or three years to get the track into operation," Cockroft said. "Eventually, it will all get done.
"It's just going to take some time."
Drag racers, stock car drivers join forces
The Kenai Peninsula Racing Lions will hold the second annual McDonald's Car Show on May 11 in the parking lot of the Kenai McDonald's.
The show will be from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. There will be first- through third-place awards for cars in all divisions. The winners will be chosen by the attending crowd.
Preregistration for the cars starts at 8 a.m. on May 11.
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