Kosciusko County Fair Board vows to fight to keep races going

Over 50 race fans attended Monday night’s Kosciusko County Fair Board meeting to not only voice their support for the fair’s efforts to fight litigation to end motorized racing there, but to also encourage the fair to open the track up to more racing.

A complaint was filed May 2 in Kosciusko County Circuit Court by plaintiffs Merle Conner, Judith Conner, Mary Clemens and Chris Cummins to end motorized racing at the fairgrounds. They also filed a motion for an immediate emergency hearing on the preliminary injunction and/or temporary restraining order prior to the next scheduled race, which was May 11. The hearing was held Thursday, but Judge Michael Reed did not make a decision and took everything under advisement..

In 1990, as part of a settlement to resolve a lawsuit between multiple homeowners and the Fair, restrictive covenants were agreed upon, including limitations on motorized fair activities.

Part of the Fair’s argument in court Thursday was that none of the original homeowners involved in the 1990 covenant live there any longer and that revenue from racing helps sustain the fair.

At the Fair Board meeting Monday, Treasurer Sheal Dirck  reported the fair had about $41,000 in cash; $41,000 in receivables; and accounts payable is about $8,000.

“Put another way though, we have a grand total assets of $85,000; incurred liabilities of $59,000; so that leaves us about $27,000 worth of capital to work with,” Dirck said. He added the Fair hasn’t been invoiced yet for the roof on the Shrine building.

The board’s past president, Randy Shepherd, said he understood the fair’s total assets was $698,912.82, but there was some “scuttlebutt” on Facebook that said the Fair “wasn’t as deficit as we say we are because anyone can look at our 990 report and find out what we have. But when someone looks at this total assets that says $698,912.82, I don’t think they understand that is everything. So in order to have that money available, that money means we’d be without anything on the grounds.”

Dirck said that was correct, as the fair’s property and grounds is worth $1 million. “Our total fixed assets, minus the net appreciation, is $613,000. That’s the majority of our assets, which is all these buildings.”

Shepherd said he just wanted to clarify that most of the fair’s assets are real estate.

Later under new business, Shepherd gave a report on Thursday’s court hearing.

He said he and Dirck represented the fair board at the hearing. The plaintiffs’ only witness was Cummins. For one of its witnesses, the Fair called Yvonne Keirn, a resident on the west side of the lake, who wasn’t bothered by the noise.

“The plaintiffs were trying to have an emergency injunction against us so we could not hold our race on Friday evening. They wanted to stop it so we couldn’t do any more until we go to trial,” Shepherd said. The Fair filed a motion Thursday evening for all issues to be settled by a jury.

The Fair is represented by attorney Edward Hearn, Crown Point, who Shepherd said brought forth that the covenant might be invalid.

“We want to pursue that,” Shepherd said. “At this point, we are moving forward with anything on the fairgrounds. Right now we have no ruling. We have a little deposition that we have to give tomorrow. I have not been officially told a court date yet.

“We do appreciate all the support that you guys are giving us out in the community. We want to fight this thing and keep it moving,” Shepherd said.

“If we can’t do things on the fairgrounds to earn some money, we’re all going to be in trouble. This fairgrounds takes a lot of money to operate. It doesn’t operate on its own. We are a not-for-profit organization,” he said.

Shepherd mentioned that because of another case involving the ACLU, the fair has about $3 million in work it has to do to make the fairgrounds ADA compliant.

“Going forward with the racing, we plan on going with the 600s. They’re what we’re doing now. We’re saying they’re not as noisy as what the ones have been in the past,” Shepherd said.

He said the Fair wants to be good neighbors and a place people can bring their families to for an event that ends at a reasonable time.

Asked what the community can do to help to keep racing going at the fairgrounds, Shepherd replied, “Funding. Honestly, we’re putting thousands of dollars into this, and as you can hear, we don’t have thousands of dollars to put into it. We honestly can’t afford to give up, because without doing something to bring in some revenue, we’re going to be dead in the water anyway.”

Board President Kevin Harris said the fair could also use good publicity and some people who live on the lake who are in favor of keeping the motorsports complex open.

“We need butts in the seats for the races. We need people out here to show we have the support. That’s the No. 1 thing. We need people out here showing we have the support,” an unidentified woman said.

June 15 is the next race.

John Gurley, who identified himself as part of the Gurley Leep car sales company, said he’s in his 30th year of driving a Sprint car, thanked everyone for coming out to Monday’s meeting and said the support online for racing at the fairgrounds has been “unbelieveable.”

“Race fans are the best. Warsaw has the best race fans, the most dedicated race fans, which is sad that we have skipped a generation of potential race fans to get to this point,” Gurley said.

“Revenue and community are two of the biggest things, and community support gets you the revenue. … I know how it is on both sides of the fence. I know the gamble that is involved, but I am here to tell you one thing: If you are counting on revenue of the numbers which I’m about to give you, conservative numbers albeit, you’re not going to get it doing the modified midgets … It is a purse maker, as long as it’s with other vehicles, other racecars.”

Gurley said based on a track the size the fair has, keeping overhead as minimal as possible, with a crowd of 600 and a 80-90 car count, “you’re going to revenue about 25 to maybe 28 grand in liquid net-net profitability. You multiply times 14, you’re going to be well into the 350 range by the end of the year. You will have better times than that, and assuredly you will have less times than that.”

Those numbers were after purse payouts and before concession profit, he said.

He told the Fair Board it needed to “strike while the rod is hot. You guys got the greenlight and you obviously have momentum.” If it waits five or six months, he said the Fair would lose momentum.

Gurley told them they had the right people behind them, and they had an opportunity to bring the community back together. He said business owners were for racing at the fair again, but they just don’t believe it will happen.

“You have the community behind you. A handful of people cannot determine or control this Fair Board’s revenue or what these people want,” Gurley said.

A petition gathering signatures in support of racing at the Warsaw Motorsports Complex has thousands of signatures, he said. He said if the fair needed help, he was there to support it.

Lisa Scott said, “Racing fans are the biggest family you can have. No matter what kind – Sprint car families, late model families – we are all in it together.”

One man suggested the area’s orthopedic companies should build the “Warsaw Orthopedic Speedway.” Shepherd replied that the orthopedic companies “give us very little support. When we go ask for funding from the orthopedic companies, they ask what will they gain from it.”

Shepherd said, “We appreciate what you guys are saying and we really need your support. If some of you out there know people who will support us, and that will fund us, we need to know who they are and maybe you can make contacts for us, because when we go out there – we still have people who hold grudges against us for closing the track and we aren’t the ones who closed the track down. … We are not the same old fair board.”

Gurley told the Fair Board they need to have a plan in place by July for future racing events, including the return of the quarter-mile race. By September, his budget for next year is over. If they have a plan in place, he said he could get the Fair Board in front of people for funding.

Scott said, “This lawsuit is not going to go anytime soon. I’m sure you all realize that. They’re going to fight. But we need to show them that we’re putting more fight back into it and hopefully they’ll back down.”

Another unidentified man told the board, “You guys really need to open up the track fully and get the stock cars in here, at least, with mufflers. They’re not going to be much louder than Micro Sprints.”

Shepherd later said that besides the GoFundMe page set up to help the Fair Board fight the litigation, a person can donate directly to the board.