A return to racing at Southside Speedway? Not so fast, county consultant says

A consultant hired by the county to study Southside Speedway identified millions of dollars in repairs that would be required before the return of racing at the venue. (BizSense file photo)

While Chesterfield officials haven’t totally written off a future in which racing returns to the shuttered Southside Speedway, a consultant hired by the county said this week that it would likely be a heavy lift to get the venue back on track.

In consultant Martyn Thake’s estimation, Southside Speedway needs “significant repair or replacement” to resume races. That’s according to his written report and a review he shared with the Chesterfield Board of Supervisors Wednesday.

He said most of the racetrack’s facilities ranging from the track itself to the fencing and bleachers are in poor condition.

“(The track’s surface is) deteriorated, unfortunately. It’s been closed for two years I believe, so there’s been no maintenance. It would be very hard to rehab that surface,” he said during his presentation.

Chesterfield purchased the Southside Speedway property in 2021 and the racing venue closed permanently during the early part of the pandemic.

Though the inner barrier wall at the track is in acceptable condition, Thake said in his report a concrete wall would be needed to replace the out-of-date steel plate barrier that runs around the protective outer perimeter of the track.

“That has not been accepted as a race barrier for many years for obvious reasons. It breaks and the sharp ends stick out and can cause all kinds of damage and injuries. It doesn’t absorb energy very well,” Thake said.

The consultant said the fencing erected to catch flying debris needs work, as does sections of the retention wall that buttresses the fencing. He said buildings at the venue would likely need replacement, among other problems.

The study’s recommended improvements were estimated to cost $12 million to $14 million, Economic Development Director Garrett Hart said in an email prior to the board’s meeting. A different consultant arrived at that figure.

Thake himself estimated $10 million to $15 million to rebuild the track while fielding questions from the board during the meeting. He noted that a cost estimate was outside the scope of his firm’s high-level review.

“Their scope was very limited to a review of the facility and to make recommendations based upon observations,” County Administrator Joe Casey said during the study presentation.

A Chesterfield spokeswoman said the Economic Development Authority plans to pay Thake $6,500 for his work. Thake, who said he has more than 40 years of experience in the racing industry in a variety of roles, is president of Arizona-based Motorsports Consulting Services.

Casey said county staff is interested in creating a request for qualifications for the Southside Speedway site to see what kind of interest there is in redevelopment, which could include racing.

“We think the next logical step will be to issue a formal request for qualifications that will hopefully enable many potential partners to rise up, including some with racetrack proposals,” Casey said.

Last week, Chesterfield revealed that conversations had ended between county officials and an unidentified party who pitched a redevelopment plan for the track property that would have reintroduced racing. Those discussions ceased after it was determined the developer’s idea wasn’t feasible. Casey said Wednesday that the developer could potentially return with a new proposal.

“We have tried to position the county for partners willing to invest in a racetrack. The unsolicited proposal we received a few months ago which included a racetrack has been brought to closure with the mutual recognition of high capital costs amid rising financing costs and even supply chain challenges,” Casey said.

Supervisor Kevin Carroll voiced his hope the track could be reopened, noting that a deep dive study hasn’t yet been completed.

“It’s not lost on me that the track is in poor condition right now. But one of the things we’ve heard from many people in the community and certainly from people who used to race there is that it’s the toughest short track in NASCAR. The reason it was tough was the type of surface that it was. It was not a beautiful smooth surface. I think, without actually doing the testing or without going down to see what the surface is underneath, it’s hard to say it couldn’t be restored with a new surface to what it was before,” Carroll said. “Hopefully, we’ll have people from the community come forward with a proposal that will work.”

Land-use plan for Southside Speedway and surrounding areas approved

The Genito/288 Special Focus Area Plan was approved by the Board of Supervisors on Wednesday. (Image courtesy of Chesterfield County)

Thake’s review of the track comes as Chesterfield ponders the future of the Southside Speedway property and the nearby area around River City Sportsplex. That process took a step forward Wednesday, as the board voted to adopt the Genito/288 Special Focus Area Plan.

The plan for the 659-acre area centered on the Speedway emphasizes future development that would make the Sportsplex at 13030 Genito Road a more desirable venue for youth sports tournaments by introducing more amenities in the vicinity. Chesterfield also has its eye on millions of dollars of improvements to the 115-acre Sportsplex.

Chesterfield’s intention is that county staff will consult the newly approved land-use plan as they review development proposals in the area. The plan has guidance for rezoning properties, road projects and a bicycle-and-pedestrian plan.

The plan suggests a 100-room hotel, restaurants and retail development be built in the central part of the area. It identifies potential entertainment uses for the Southside Speedway track proper, which could take the shape of a racing facility, sports stadium or something else along those lines.

The land-use plan also maps out mixed-use, office and light industrial uses on Genito Road in addition to medium- to high-density residential development to the east of Oak Lake Business Park.

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Dobsyn Jones
Dobsyn Jones
15 days ago

Would be a good purchase for Garrett Mitchell aka “Cleetus”. He did it once and he can do it again.

SA Chaplin
SA Chaplin
15 days ago

As Jason AieloJa commented a year ago on this matter: “This is legal theft from taxpayers and a gross overreach of government roles. . . . [I]t’s not a government function to pick winners and losers in the marketplace.”
Jason, my friend, you had a net of two downvotes on your comment. But you are right. Cities and Counties have no business being in business. Leave that to the private sector. 

Justin Reynolds
Justin Reynolds
15 days ago
Reply to  SA Chaplin

You’re acting as if the county bought this property when it was in high demand. Chesterfield bought this, similar to how if bought Cloverleaf, since it has a specific goal in mind for a less than desirable property.

Chesterfield has made a lot of decisions I don’t agree with, but helping to revitalize an area the way they see fit is well within a locality’s domain. Similarly, if the county let a church buy cloverleaf’s property the county would have lost a ton of revenue for a very visible/prime location.

Dave Adkins
Dave Adkins
15 days ago

Why not strip the track and run dirt for a few years to start cash coming in. Historic incidences of that happening there, and a lot of motorsports that could make use of a small size venue.

Jim Jacobs
Jim Jacobs
15 days ago
Reply to  Dave Adkins

Dave isn’t wrong. Short track dirt racing is still getting after it these days.

Ed Christina
Ed Christina
11 days ago
Reply to  Jim Jacobs

And what would that cost to put in place? It’s not like you could drag a rake behind your truck and turn it into a dirt tack

Brian Ezzelle
Brian Ezzelle
15 days ago