Is Hialeah Speedway Finished? Commentary by Marty Little
There were cheers, tears and above all uncertainty about the
future of Hialeah Speedway when the final checkered flag waved over a field of Cyclone cars Saturday night. Would all the excitement, growing, learning and fender bending come to an end on a cloudy South Florida night or is there life left in the famed third-mile oval?
There is little question that the once proud fortunes of this flat
Miami-area oval have been in decline for the past decade. Run by the Greater Miami Racing Association since its inception in the summer of 1954, the club, out money and options turned over the operation of the track to the promotional duo of Bill Flingos and Ron Kaouk for the 1996 season. Flingos, a former fixture at the track as a driver and car owner, lost his battle with cancer in early 1997 and Kaouk became the solo operator.
With Kaouk as the single person in charge it was the first time the track had lost the involvement with the club membership and the sometimes volatile board of directors. By all good reasoning this change of how the track was managed should have been a plus but it became apparent that the opposite was true. There was no check and balance system and both car and spectator counts began to dwindle noticeably.
From a financial standpoint the biggest yearly burden is the property tax on the leased 33 acre site that encompasses the speedway and its large parking area near downtown Hialeah. This tax as been in the $100,000. range for many years and while some years were more difficult than others, it was always paid on time. This was done via a separate tax account that was added to weekly and used soley for that purpose to meet the April 1 deadline.
Originally Kaouk's contract called for a three year stint as manager but he agreed to take on the 1999 season as well when no other parties stepped forward to unseat him. This season began as did '99 with Kaouk at the helm but there was one big difference. There was no money put asside to pay the looming tax tab. Communication was poor at best but when the racers and fans realized that if the tax bill went unpaid they lost a place to enjoy themselves on Saturday nights they swung into action.
A local attorney who's wife races at the track, Kevin Lunsford, agreed to hold donated monies safely in escrow while others, led by driver Mike Powers and Dennis Coyle, cranked up a telephone campaign to solicit funding and alert the media to the plight of the 46-year-old speedway. Kaouk seemed indifferent to all the commotion and just wanted his reign as promoter to come to an end, to put it behind him.
In only five weeks nearly $30,000 has been raised but it is far short of the $91,000 needed to satisfy the open-handed tax man who cares little about the cares and fears of some weekly racers and fans. An accelerated deadline of March 15 has been imposed by an agreement from a former lawsuit and Lunsford and the property owner's represenative, Pat Bell, will sit down and try to work out an agreement allowing the speedway to remain active.
As we go to press it is not known what fate will befall the place where Bobby and Donnie Allison, Gary Balough, Bobby Brack, Larry Rogero, Mario Gosselin and hundreds of other drivers turned their first competitive laps behind the wheel of a stock car. Only time will tell.
-By Marty Little
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