Drivers and fans of Raceway Park in Shakopee hope the short-track venue will make a comeback in a new location, but some worry that such an effort could be a long shot.
Shakopee city officials said they have had no contact with owner John Hellendrung about a potential new site and said options in the area are limited.
After the last races, set for Labor Day weekend, are completed, Recovery Technology Solutions plans to begin building an asphalt recycling plant on the track site along Hwy. 101 near Valleyfair.
“I think under current conditions they probably would have to look a bit to find a suitable site, but I’m not sure what their interest is in that,” said Michael Leek, Shakopee’s community development director.
Hellendrung did not return calls seeking comment on his plans but has said that economic conditions are behind his decision to sell the track.
Driver Matt Stanley of Shakopee and others said the Raceway Park owner has discussed the idea of replacing the track.
“He’s on step seven of 200 of trying to get something else lined up,” Stanley said.
Stanley’s team, Stanley Racing 13, helped organize an Aug. 4 “Pack the Stands” effort to top the track’s record race-day attendance of 3,200 set in 1971. Organizers came close, with unofficial numbers topping 3,000, Stanley said.
The fans and drivers behind Pack the Stands sought to create a bit of history as well as demonstrate that Minnesotans still have an interest in racing, Stanley said.
While pleased with the turnout, Stanley acknowledged that building a new Raceway Park would be an uphill climb.
“I’m optimistic they’re going to try something, but I think with all the zoning and costs and everything else, I don’t see that it’s real feasible,” Stanley said. “It’d definitely be nice, but I don’t see it happening.”
Shakopee is unusual in that it formerly contained a large “racetrack district” that over time became a smaller Major Recreation Zone, Leek said. With the City Council approving a land-use change at Raceway Park, the zone now mainly applies only to Canterbury Park and Valleyfair.
Leek said the council could change the zoning elsewhere in the city but pointed out that the Mdewakanton Sioux Community has a say regarding about 1,500 acres in Shakopee.
“Anything that happens there would have to be initiated with them, and I don’t think they have in mind a racetrack facility,” Leek said.
He said building west of the city in Louisville Township and Jackson Township could potentially be an option.
Longtime driver Jeremy Wolff of Chaska welcomed the rebuilding idea. “I hope they can find a way to keep a short track around this area so that we all have a place to play,” he said. “It’s my playground, and you know how kids get when they close down a playground.”
Wolff’s son, Joshua Wolff, also has raced at the track.
“It’s a place where you can bring your family and not worry about what’s going to go on there,” the elder Wolff said.
During an Aug. 4 race, he ended up placing first after exchanging leads more than once with runner-up Jacob Goede of Carver.
“Most places, we wouldn’t be talking to each other,” Wolff said. “But he and I had a beer together and talked. That’s what I like about Raceway Park. You’re fierce competitors on the track, but you’re friends when you get out of your car.”
His mother, Richfield resident Ellen Wolff, said the track’s closure is difficult for her family and other longtime patrons, who call her “Mama Wolff.”
“When I first heard it, I couldn’t stop crying because I think that it’s like losing a family member,” she said. “I know we’ll still be in contact with everybody, but it was hard to take.”
Minneapolis resident Cathi Nelson, who has been visiting Raceway Park for about 30 years, said she has had a lifelong obsession with the sport.
“I really wish there were some way they could save it, but with the economy the way it is I understand how businesspeople are,” Nelson said.
While Nelson said she appreciates the practicality of recycling plants, she said she would like Raceway Park to be able to keep operating at its home since the 1950s.
“I have dreams where if I were to win today’s lottery I’d own the track because I’d buy it,” Nelson said. “That’s the honest truth.”
Races are scheduled through Sunday, Sept. 1. For details, visit goracewaypark.com.
Seth Rowe is a Twin Cities freelance writer.