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December 03, 2016
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Bethel Motor Speedway seeks permit; supporters turn out, criticism muted

Every year for the past four years, a representative from Bethel Motor Speedway shows up at a Town of Bethel meeting and requests a permit for the coming year. And every year, the board tries to fashion the permit in a way that will mollify a couple of residents who have perennial complaints about the operation.

This year, Fred Graf, who purchased the track in 2008, said that he spent about $1 million on the operation, does not take any money out of it and, in 2011, “increased the money we spent in this county and town by $214,000. We used a lot more local contractors, local vendors, even though in most instances the price increase was upward of 10%.”

Also appearing at the public hearing on February 8 were seven young drivers, aged nine and up, who came to show support for the youth programs that are offered, which allow them to get on the track in a controlled environment. Three of their fathers, who had driven up to two hours to attend the hearing, spoke in support.

One father, George Eckes, said it’s an opportunity for young drivers to learn how to race safely. He said, “It’s a great program because they can go out one, two, maybe three cars at a time; they’re staggered. If they get too close to one another, they flag them and slow them down. It’s a great program. I just hope everybody looks at it from that standpoint.”

Graf had a couple of requests for the board. Last year, the races were allowed on 24 days from April through October. But last year was quite rainy and some of the races were cancelled. Graf wanted the board to allow him to schedule make-up dates for rained-out events, otherwise the track loses too much money. Additionally, on days with the youth program, he wanted to be allowed to open the track at 2:30 p.m., rather than 3:00 p.m., because the check-in procedure for the young drivers consumes a lot of time.

Bethel supervisor Dan Sturm asked why a section of dirt on the grounds was not paved last year, which would help to keep dust levels down. Graf responded that the ground was not dry enough to pave, but he promised to do it this year when weather permits.

There was also a discussion about other complaints; one neighbor last year said the racing made her windows rattle. Graf responded that the dialogue between the parties had to be “fact-based.” “Let’s see if they really rattle; if they do, we’ll do something about it.”

Later, in explaining why the track is so closely regulated, Sturm said, “We have to protect the life and property in the vicinity of the track, whether it’s one or 10, and as much as possible we have to prevent unreasonable loud noises, dust and dirt sometimes produced by this type of use.”

The board did not immediately decide the terms of the new permit, but may grant the permit at the next meeting on February 22. At the public hearing, no one spoke out against the track.