Consultant Martyn Thake concluded that Southside Speedway needs "significant repair or replacement."
A consultant hired by the Chesterfield Economic Development Authority (EDA) to observe current conditions at the shuttered Southside Speedway presented his findings to the Board of Supervisors during its monthly business meeting Wednesday evening.
Martyn Thake, principal of Tucson-based Motorsports Consulting Services, concluded “the entire facility needs significant repair and or replacement to create a speedway with the safety elements needed.”
“In my opinion, the facility is unsafe and needs comprehensive rehabilitation to bring it up to current safety standards,” reads the eight-page MCS report, which was added to the board’s agenda packet for public review on Monday.
Thake has more than 40 years of professional motorsports experience and has performed hundreds of track inspections, designs and redesigns for Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART), the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) and the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA).
Southside Speedway hosted stock-car racing for more than 60 years at its Genito Road location before the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of its 2020 racing schedule.
At the direction of the Board of Supervisors, Chesterfield’s EDA purchased the 47-acre property in June 2021 – about six months after its owners announced they had decided to permanently close the 1/3-mile track.
The county’s intent was to ensure that the site will be redeveloped in alignment with a broader vision to complement and enhance the nearby River City Sportsplex.
At the time of Chesterfield’s acquisition, the track was effectively in the state of disrepair that exists today; any assets had been removed by the former owners prior to sale.
Earlier this year, the EDA received an unsolicited proposal from an entity that wanted to rehabilitate, reopen and operate the racetrack, but it was mutually determined that it could not do so in a sustainable manner at this time because of capital and financing costs.
“As we’ve continued to hear the possibilities of Southside Speedway having a second life, we have tried to position the county for partners willing to invest in a racetrack,” said County Administrator Dr. Joe Casey during Wednesday’s meeting.
The Chesterfield EDA is preparing to issue a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) from entities interested in redeveloping the entire Southside Speedway site, with or without a racetrack, in accordance with the Genito/288 Special Focus Area Plan that was adopted by the Board of Supervisors following a public hearing Wednesday.
Other possibilities discussed include a combination track and soccer stadium facility, an e-sports stadium facility, a large indoor field facility, and a venue for concerts and community activities.
County staff will evaluate proposals that best meet the RFQ criteria. The board ultimately will determine what happens with the property going forward.
“Potential partners need to know the scope of what may be needed at the site to rehab or remediate,” Casey added. “Therefore, it was prudent for us to determine the current condition and viability of the racetrack.”
After visiting Southside Speedway, Thake made the following observations:
*All structures on the site – including the scoring tower, bleachers, restrooms and concession stands – are in a significant state of disrepair and should be demolished.
“None of those are salvageable,” Thake told the Board of Supervisors. “If you’re going to have spectators, you have to have bathrooms, concessions, ticket booths, places for them to sit. If you’re going to operate it as before, you’ll need to replace those buildings.”
*The steel plate barrier around the perimeter of the track must be replaced with a poured-in-place concrete wall, capable of taking a direct impact from the heaviest car that will be racing there at its maximum speed.
Steel “has not been accepted as a racing barrier for many years for obvious reasons,” Thake said. “It breaks, then the sharp edges stick out and can cause all kinds of damage and injuries. It doesn’t absorb energy very well [and] it tends to deform … especially on an oval, when a car comes into contact with the wall, you want it to slide around the track to dissipate energy.”
*The fencing erected along the perimeter of the track to keep spectators safe from out-of-control cars and flying debris is loose and leaning in several areas.
“I have no idea how deep those [fence] posts are buried, what they’re buried in, how much erosion there has been. It needs to be seriously evaluated,” Thake added.
*Thake also concluded the track’s “deteriorating” asphalt racing surface, which currently has tall weeds growing from many cracks, needs to be replaced.
“I wouldn’t use it as it is,” he said. “What happens when you get cracks that wide with asphalt and you drive across them really fast – the tires catch the edge of the crack and start chipping away at it. Not only does the crack get bigger, it throws chunks of asphalt at the guy driving behind you.”
Board of Supervisors Chair Chris Winslow, whose district includes Southside Speedway, asked what it would cost to rebuild the facility from the ground up.
“Not knowing material or labor costs in this area, I would say based on experience you’re looking at somewhere between $10 to $15 million,” Thake replied.
Asked by Bermuda District Supervisor Jim Ingle if it would be possible to mill the asphalt down all the way to the track’s sub-surface and make necessary repairs without having to demolish it and start from scratch, Thake said he couldn’t answer that question without performing more extensive testing.
As part of the Request for Qualifications process, Casey said, “if someone has a racetrack concept and some of the potential bidders want to come out to the track and do some engineering testing, looking at the sub-surface, we’ll avail people to do that.”
Matoaca District Supervisor Kevin Carroll noted that Southside Speedway’s racers and fans have long referred to it as “the toughest short track in NASCAR.”
“It wasn’t a beautiful smooth surface like Daytona once they redid it or Talladega or some of those other tracks. The actual surface of the track is actually what made it difficult to race there in the first place, which meant you had to be more skilled to be successful,” he said. “Without going down and seeing what the surface is underneath, it’s hard to say it couldn’t be restored to what it was before.”
Carroll also acknowledged “there’s a lot of work that needs to be done to even make it an acceptable venue for someone to race on.”
“Hopefully we’ll have some people from the community come forward with a proposal that will work,” he added.