July 26, 2016 - 9:00 PM
VERNON - A locked gate and empty bleachers are all you’ll find these days at the Motoplex Speedway just outside of Vernon.
The facility boasts a large, tri-oval race track and seating for 7,500 spectators but has been empty since its last event in June of 2015.
The speedway has been stuck in a legal dispute with the developers of a nearby retirement community for years, and it’s not over yet.
In April of this year, a Kelowna judge ordered the track owners to pay $100,000 in damages to Lawrence Heights and limit the noise during events to 80 decibels. The owners of the subdivision, who were seeking $6.3 million in lost revenue, have since appealed the decision, and the parties return to court later this summer.
The general manager of the speedway, Bob Newcombe, confirms there are no events scheduled for the summer 2016 racing season and says the future of the facility remains uncertain.
“We’re just waiting to get through the appeal. Once we’re done that, we’ll move forward. No idea what that will look like — it depends on how the appeal comes in,” Newcombe says.
The speedway has been in operation since 2000, holding up to 18 races a year in its heyday. But the number of events has dwindled in recent years with only three in 2015. Newcombe wouldn’t comment on the reason for the decline, but noted the legal battle has been underway for several years.
“It’s a disappointment for locals for sure,” Newcombe says.
As the speedway returns to court later this year, many will be watching, including Okanagan resident Al Hartley. He’s been a fan and race car fanatic for years, as well as a regular at Motoplex Speedway events.
“That track out there is one of the nicer ones you’ll ever visit,” he says. “Just the way it’s set up; it’s got easy access off the highway, great seating for spectators, and every driver I’ve talked to said they love to race there. It’s such a shame to see it sit there just wasting away.”
He believes the track has huge economic potential and says fans from across the province, and even North America, would attend events there. Plus, he says the facility provides great entertainment for locals.
“It sounds like the town is 100 per cent behind the track. It’s funny the judge sides with four or five people over a whole town,” he says.
Hartley is so passionate about the track, he’s expressed interest in buying it — pending the outcome of the appeal. He’s the person behind a Facebook group called Save the Motoplex Speedway and has been canvassing for investors willing to go in on the track for more than a year.
And while Hartley says he’s had some discussions with the speedway about it, Newcombe says the facility is not currently for sale. Until the appeal is over, he says no firm decisions are being made about the future of the track.
“We would just like (the court case) to be finalized so we can decide which direction we’re going to go in. Until then we’re kind of at a standstill,” Newcombe says. “I would just tell everybody to hang on, let’s get through the appeal here and find out if it’s beyond our control.”
If the judge upholds the 80 decibel noise limit, it’s possible some events could still be held at the track, depending on where the sound is measured from and if the race cars can adhere to the limit.
Multiple calls to Lawrence Heights for comment were not returned.
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