LEBANON — Willamette Speedway is closed to the public until its management complies with Linn County’s Public Health and Safety Codes.
Electrical power was cut to the popular racetrack Monday, the heart of a racing schedule that started April 13 and ends Sept. 21.
Operators were warned in May that failure to comply with county safety codes by Aug. 12 would result in closure.
Races scheduled for this week at the half-mile dirt track have been moved to a sister track in Cottage Grove, according to information posted on the company’s social media page, which noted, “Willamette Speedway regrets to inform our racers and fans that the events on 8/14/19 are cancelled. We are diligently working on a full resolution with track ownership to avoid further cancellations.”
Robert Wheeldon, Linn County’s Planning Department director, said the county requested that power be cut after numerous attempts to see the facility brought into compliance with safety codes.
“Our department has had ongoing compliance issues including building, plumbing and electrical codes for a number of years,” he said. “They have never come into full compliance.”
The Democrat-Herald attempted to contact speedway management for comment, but calls had not been returned as of Wednesday afternoon.
Wheeldon said that this year, in conjunction with other inspections, new health and safety issues were noted by county inspectors. According to a May 3 letter to Speedway co-owner Jerry Schram, the county had conducted site visits on March 22 and 29, and April 8 and 30.
The letter also noted that the county has been working with the operation since 2012 and has waived permit fees to help rectify issues.
“We have notified the property owners and managers in writing and we set out compliance schedules, including inspection deadlines,” Wheeldon said. “They have done some and they haven’t done others. Ultimately, it is the county’s responsibility for health and safety at a facility that has hundreds of people every weekend.”
Numerous facilities have been constructed without proper permits or inspections at the property, according to county records. They include installation of two Conex boxes for use as an office and concession stand; an electrical room; a pole building; a men’s restroom; two VIP viewing areas; and fixtures in a women’s restroom.
Lebanon Fire Marshal Jason Bolen said the fire district has also inspected the operation.
“We have done life safety inspections and there were some items of concern to us," he said.
He added that Willamette Speedway operators were “working with us on those violations.”
On May 3, Linn County notified operators that by May 17, they needed to:
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• Maintain compliance with the Lebanon Fire District conditional use approval letter of April 18.
• Provide hot water in restrooms.
• Provide an accessible family restroom.
• Provide proper installation of a Type I hood in the kitchen and obtain permits and inspection approvals.
• Cease and desist the use of the arcade until change-of-use and inspection approvals have been obtained.
Other conditions required by June 6 were:
• Obtain permits and begin work to install approved automatic sprinkler and fire alarm systems.
• Provide accessibility compliance for restrooms, VIP seating, parking and serving areas.
• Obtain inspection approvals of all outstanding permits.
Before the 2020 season opening, the county requires that:
• The east side grandstands, restaurant and restrooms be demolished or be brought into compliance with the Oregon Structural Specialty Codes.
• A certificate of occupancy be obtained for the entire facility.
In the May letter, county building official Suzanne Larson noted, “It is Linn County’s primary concern to safeguard the health, safety and welfare of the facility’s occupants, and thereafter the property.”
Linn County Commissioner Will Tucker said he “is very saddened to see any business close down due to safety concerns, but we take public safety very seriously. These health and safety codes are in place for good reasons.”
Dirt-track racing has a long history in Lebanon. For many years, racers competed at the city's rodeo grounds. But in 1964, they were no longer allowed to use the site and moved to what is now Willamette Speedway west of town on Airport Road.
Clair and Evelyn Arnold founded Willamette Speedway in 1966 and their family operated it until 2011, when they sold it to Jim and Jerry Schram of Vancouver, Washington. The brothers own an excavating company as well as other Pacific Northwest race tracks. Michael Short and Dan Diebele lease the facility from the Schrams.
Contact Linn County reporter Alex Paul at 541-812-6114.