Updated at 11:48 a.m. with commission's approval — Chris Payne had hoped that there would have been Memorial Day Weekend racing at a new motorsports complex like there was with the Indianapolis 500, the Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Formula One’s Monaco Grand Prix.
That wasn’t the case. But there are signs that it will be a reality in 2020 at the old I-70 Speedway. On Wednesday, after months of haggling, the Lafayette County Commission approved the operation of the I-70 Motorsports Park under Kansas City businessman Payne’s ownership.
It’s a project that both Payne and business owners in nearby Odessa hope will bring new life into the small town.
The track that’s along Interstate 70 has been closed since 2008. Yet, the rusted I-70 Speedway sign is close to being replaced. And, once approved, Payne can begin reconstructing the site, which will have a dirt oval track, a motocross course and a drag strip.
The process took a major step forward a month ago when the Lafayette County Planning Commission approved a permit for Payne to operate the motorsports complex. Before that, Payne said, he thought about walking away from the entire project.
“You can beat your head against the wall so many times and you’re wondering if you’re doing the right thing,” he said April 17.
Odessa Mayor Adam Couch said some business owners, wish the county’s approval process could have moved faster.
“I think some are disappointed that it hasn’t opened yet,” he said.
But Mary Bertram, who owns The Mixing Bowl bakery in downtown Odessa, is glad Payne persisted.
“It’s a tourist-type thing,” she said.
Referencing the sought-after Memorial Day crowd that she didn’t have this year, she added: “It’s going to draw people in this direction, so we’re not getting that draw now that we would have had. We’re definitely losing revenue over it.”
During the public hearings, people who live close to the old speedway said they opposed the project because of the noise and the increased traffic.
But Couch sees the reopening of the speedway as a chance to talk again about another hotel in Odessa or an improved interchange at the Odessa exit.
“We want to make sure that Lafayette County doesn’t miss out on an opportunity here for, not only the economic aspect of it, but to clean up an eyesore that’s right on the interstate that folks talk about,” he said.
Greg Echlin is a freelance sports reporter for KCUR 89.3.