By Joe Dunn
In late 2006, a group of investors announced plans for a huge racing and entertainment complex near Mobile, Al. Alabama Motorsports Park “ A Dale Earnhardt Jr Speedway” was touted as a multi – racing facility that would include a 1 mile paved oval, a 3/8 mile dirt track, a motocross track, a dragstrip a karting track and a 3mile road course with a projected open date in 2009. Also included would be an RV park, multiple music theaters, an arena, commercial, residential and light industrial activities.
Among the main investors named were Dale Earnhardt Jr, whose name would adorn the facility, his sister Kelley Earnhardt Elledge and brother Kerry Earnhardt. Our family business is racing and it’s been our business for three generations,” said Dale Earnhardt Jr. “Kelley, Kerry and I want to continue the family business with hopes that the next generation of Earnhardts will want to be involved in the sport. This new venture with the Alabama Motorsports Park provides yet another avenue in which the Earnhardt family can participate.
In 2007 the plans were cut back to eliminate, the dragstrip, the dirt track and the motocross track. Instead, the new plans called for the 7/10th oval, the 3 mile road course and a kart track. At that time it was estimated that construction would begin in early 2008 with an anticipated opening in the first quarter of 2010. However 2008 went by without a shovel in the ground.
In January 2009, Gulf Coast Entertainment, the corporate name, signed a purchase agreement with Dover Motorsports for the purchase of Memphis Motorsports Park. The Memphis track is host to both Nascar Nationwide Series and Camping World Truck Series races, as well as the NHRA, O’Reilly Mid-South Nationals and AMA Dragbike Spring Nationals on it’s dragstrip. The contract called for Dover to remain to manage the facilities until such time as the Alabama facility would be ready to move the events there. This seemed to be a well organized plan with a lot of contingencies to get things done smoothly.
But somewhere along the way, things started changing, and it appears that the group described as ‘30 Investors’ is suddenly having trouble raising capital. In July of this this year, Dover Motorsports agreed to an extension on the sale of Memphis Motorsports Park. The AMP website states that the delay in the purchase is due to not having obtained enough funding for the purchase. A few weeks later, it was announced in Charlotte that Dale Earnhardt Jr was withdrawing from the group and removing his name from the track. Joining Dale in the exit was his sister Kelley and brother Kerry, leaving no Earnhardts involved.
Just days before Earnhardt’s announcement, GCE met with the Prichard, Al city council and made a deal for a 5% sales tax for all purchases on the property to be given to GCE. Some of the City council members expressed their dismay a few days later that the Mayor, Ron Davis, having been informed before the meeting about Dale Jr’s departure failed to disclose that information to the council before they voted on the tax issue.
So, what started out, more than 3 years ago as a grand racing facility with the family name of one of Racings greatest legends attached has whittled down to less than half of it’s original plans, the loss of the ‘Big Name’ and now heading into at least a 2-3 year delayed opening. Is this all because of the Economic slump the country has been in for over a year, or was this a grand scheme that never had the financial backing that the principles claimed? I don’t know the answers, but 2009 is not looking good for this venture. For the folks of west Tennessee maybe there is a reprieve coming and the anticipated loss of MMP may be only a fading thought. I hate to see a new venture fail before it starts, but I’m hoping that Memphis Motorsports Park stays where it is for many years to come.