Fans cheered Friday night as the smell of exhaust filled the air and cars raced round and round, drowning out conversation but lifting spirits as the Willamette Speedway roared back to life.
It was the first race back for the track after Linn County shut off power to the facility in mid-August, citing repeated attempts to work with owners on several health and safety issues. In May, for example, the county requested that hot water be provided in restrooms, a new hood be placed in the kitchen with proper permits, and that the arcade be closed. It also ordered the track to demolish the east side grandstands and restaurant if they were still out of compliance by the start of the racing season.
Last week, owners signed a compliance agreement with the county to open the track again for Friday and Saturday’s races.
“The owners and the county signed an agreement. We’re going to finish out the 2019 season as scheduled,” said leasing partner Michael Short. “We’re open for business and look forward to having everyone out here.”
Short said the track will complete all of its scheduled events this year, including the World of Outlaws show scheduled for Wednesday.
On Friday night, September was still a long way off, though, as racers focused on the contests in front of them. They were just glad to be back.
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“It was pretty scary that there was a potential for it to close,” said Clay Debban. He’s been going to the track on Airport Road in Lebanon since he was 5 years old. Thirty years later, he met his girlfriend, Cindy Schulte, there and continues to race the kit car he built with his father.
“I’m grateful the county was willing to work with the owners and continue to give us somewhere to race,” he said. “I think a lot of people thought we weren’t going to be back and in Lebanon there’s not a lot to do on a Saturday night. I grew up coming here and I’m just glad we get the chance to race.”
Debban added that he was glad the new owners had worked with the county and would be coming into compliance to allow the track to stay open.
The property is owned by brothers Jim and Jerry Schram of Vancouver, Washington, but was founded by Clair and Evelyn Arnold in 1966. The family operated the track until 2011 when it sold it to the Schram brothers. Michael Short and Dan Diebele lease the facility.
The agreement with the county calls for the immediate closure of the arcade and a permanent emergency exit to be designated.
“It’s a family place,” Short said Friday night as he ping-ponged between the stands, the pit and the ticket booth. “Support your local dirt tracks.”