The Thrill is Gone At Auburndale Speedway
By Jack Smith
One word that conveyed a mountain of meaning to fans of stock car racing in Polk County, Florida.
Bill Martino was gone; and the new promoter who came with such promise in late 2000 was J.T. Beard, a supposedly well-to-do entrepreneur from California who had made his fortune in the storage business.
A new sun was rising over the little quarter mile speedway and 500 race fans volunteered in a "massive clean-up effort" at the track in October 2000. New wood for the bleachers, new PA system, paint and lighting system, all pointed to a new era at the "little speedway that could".
As we approach the two-year mark on Beard's adventure into stock car racing it is becoming increasingly clear that rough times are indeed here for the foreseeable future at Auburndale Speedway.
Now I hate eating crow, hate the taste of that foul fowl. Which is why I usually make damn sure have my stories straight.
Last November John Barker wrote a piece for the Ledger, Lakeland's hometown newspaper, in which he made the case that Auburndale Speedway was in trouble.
Among other things he made the following observations:
"racing at Auburndale Speedway is still a bit questionable, because strong management still has not taken center stage."
"One thing for sure is track owner J.T. Beard must step up and make some key changes regarding rules being the same for every driver in each class. If not, there's sure to be a driver rebellion of sorts."
"The gates here could swing shut for good unless the entire Auburndale team is on the same wave length next season."
I took Barker to task on each of those points and defended Beard this way:
"Perhaps Barker is still irate over the outsider J. T. Beard buying the track. For those unfamiliar with the details, Beard bought the track, the property, and the whole shooting match. He's not leasing the place to make a quick buck. J. T. Beard is in fact looking to reduce his commitments to his other businesses so that he can devote full time to the track in 2002, and has made tremendous improvements to the physical plant while learning the inside of a stock car short track. New pavement, much better lighting and improved safety features combined with keeping the place clean and neat are some of the improvements Beard has made. For next year's season Auburndale has also made a strong commitment to community involvement and bringing many new sponsors on board. J.T. Beard has been quite clear in his statements about the kind of facility he wants. The emphasis will be toward putting on entertaining shows that draw a wider range of race fans and audiences. "
Barker was right, and I was wrong. Fact is, I was deceived by a smooth talking purveyor of deception.
The track was paved all right, but the paving company still has not been paid even though courts have ruled in their favor.
Beard has numerous other lawsuits against him and several more pending suits from individuals and businesses, many of which are so sensitive we can’t yet discuss them.
He is in the middle of a nasty divorce that has become part of the Saturday night landscape at the track, he is in what may end up being a major lawsuit involving his own family as they discover more and more of his financial misdeeds. See, sources indicate to us that good ole Carl Beard Jr. (AKA J.T.) actually has no money of his own to speak of. He may have used the assets of Beard family up in Virginia to get control of the speedway without laying all the facts out for the Trust.
That's the short hand version.
There are many questions we would like to have Beard answer for the race fans, but he refuses to answer our e-mails or return our phone calls.
Among the questions are:
Did he have the permission of the family trust to commit funds for the purchase of the property?
When will the back taxes be paid?
What has been his motivation for banning so many racers and fans from the track?
Why did he really ban scanners at the track?
Does he still deny he tried to lease the track back to Martino and or others?
What justification is there for not allowing certain parents of children racers to participate with their children's activities at the track?
What is his relationship with the young man arrested on felony drug charges involving Beard's property?
Did he really steal the Rental Truck and use it to conduct speedway business?
Why has he refused to pay the paving company for the work they did and for which he has been receiving benefit?
Why does he express verbal contempt for the racers and fans at the speedway?
Where did the points fund money go for the year 2001?
How much is in the points fund now and are you willing to back up any such claims with bank records?
Are you paying speedway employees under the table?
Do you employ children in violation of State laws?
How can anyone justify having young children running on a racetrack, which everyone knows is a dangerous activity without safety equipment and personnel on hand? Could you live with the death of a child brought about in part by your own lack of concern? Why is this allowed?
Yesterday a youngster of eleven or twelve years old and another young racer from the Kids Club were involved in a serious accident at the track during practice. Daniel McClain sustained back injuries and was transported by ambulance to a local hospital. No safety team was available to help and the ambulance had to be called.
Most folks outside the racing community would consider this child abuse. I do, and a half-dozen non-racing friends I have contacted concur. Both the adult members of the Kids Club and Carl Beard Jr. should take immediate action to remedy this situation.
My guess is that Beard has none of his own money to back this speedway venture and is just in racing to make a quick buck off "these stupid people".
The promise for the fans and racers of Auburndale Speedway was so high two years ago, but castles built on quicksand don't last long.
The car count continues to tumble as racers move on to other tracks with less contentiousness and fans are staying away as the entertainment value fades. Promotion of the track has become less and less. Special events are becoming a ritual of one big monster truck a handful of demo derby cars.
Are fines the drivers and unaccounted for and 50/50 money becoming an income source to replace lost revenues from proper operation of the business?
Can the situation at Auburndale be reversed without new ownership?
We don't think so.
In any event the thrill is gone, and it's gone for good.
This time we asked the questions, next time we'll begin to answer them.
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