Miller Motorsports Park: The track that used to be?
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My father had the experience of going to the Skip Barber Racing School a few years prior. He had told my brothers and I the many stories of whipping a Viper around and taking the famous corkscrew in a smaller, indy-type racer. I genuinely enjoyed the stories he told, and the photos he brought home of him on the track. I was hooked, right then and there. Cars suddenly became my focus of attention. My brother and I would spend countless hours playing Gran Turismo, knocking out numerous endurance races in a single day, and truthfully racing all 24 hours of the 24 hour endurance race that was on the game. To this day, if there is a photo or video of a Suzuki Escudo, the blue Calsonic Skyline, or the Mazda 787B, we make sure to share the photo/link with each other and reminisce about the good old days.
It was 2006, the very first year the American Le Mans series would touch here in Northern Utah, and I had no idea what to expect. I had never been to an actual racetrack in my entire life to that point. I had read about the building process, the original plan that the late Larry H. Miller had going in to the construction, and the final product, were very, very different from one another. What originally was going to be a personal recreational racetrack for Larry, with a budget of around $5 million dollars, quickly became a 23 turn, $85+ million full blown race sanctuary. What Larry created wasn't just a racetrack, it was race heaven. People could come from miles around to enjoy street racing, NASCAR, off road, AMA, or even race go-karts. If you didn't enjoy speed before you spent a day at the race track, I can guarantee the moment you left, you were obsessed.
From the moment you walked through the gates, it becomes very real, very fast. The paddocks are covered with tractor trailers, as far west as you can see, with club crews changing tires, elbow deep in an engine bay, or removing damaged front clips that occurred from a prior qualifying heat that same day. The crews are replacing parts faster than you can focus on the part that's going back in, and the smell of race fuel peppers the air, leaving you with a smile that can be measured as the length of a dip stick.
And then, you hear it. It sounds like a symphony consisting of forged pistons and stainless steel cat-back exhaust. The Corvette C6R is awakened with it's apocalyptic roar. At that moment in time, life couldn't possibly be any better.. until the 4.3 liter, 490hp V8 from a Ferrari F430 begins to dance, winding around the final apex before heading down the straight a way on the track to your left.
Minutes turn to hours watching the racing from 5 different grand stands, witnessing precision driving first hand and up close. The enthusiasm is contagious, as the crowd stands and cheers as the talented drivers fight for position around every corner. The kids, the adults, the families being able to witness motorsports this close, minutes from their home while enjoying the company of their loved ones, leaving with stories of close calls and sound effects of the various makes and models throughout the race series. It's unique. It's out of the ordinary. It was exactly what Larry H. Miller had planned all along.
Fast forward to May 8, 2015, I was at my office when I had received a text to check out a link online. Clicking into the link, I wouldn't have guessed what I would read on the other side. The headline was, "Miller Motorsports Park to cease operations". I was stunned. The Wide Open Wednesday events, the Utah Grand Prix, Formula Drift, the go karting, the AMA races..all of it, done. To say I was heartbroken, would be an understatement.
As it turns out, the track had a very promising buyer (Mitime Investments) that was going to immediately invest millions of dollars into the existing racetrack and transform it into arguably one of the greatest racetracks in North America. That sale fell through due to a lawsuit filed against the city of Tooele because the sale wasn't handled with fair market value in mind.
If you have been to Tooele, Utah, look around you. The amount of land available is not in short supply. Mitime had full intentions on making an already functioning, meticulously maintained racing facility into a world famous, state of the art racers paradise. Land is not in short supply, land is constantly available for investment opportunities. There are numerous signs and billboards on the way to the racetrack stating there being property for sale. To create from scratch is one thing, but to purchase with intent to clear and create housing has an entire community with arms held up in confusion. You don't purchase a Boeing 747 to convert it into fishing boats. If you want a fishing boat, you buy a fishing boat. If you want a jet, you buy something that looks like a jet. To take this away from a community that has embraced a racing lifestyle, would impact the area in more ways than one. The economic stimulation from Mitime's proposed future plans will create jobs, different motorsports events, a hotel, and a race car assembly facility that will put Tooele on the map as a premiere racing destination.
To take away a racetrack that Utahn's view as one of Larry Miller's final footprints left on the state before his passing would be devastating. For something that some only view as just a piece of land capable for developmental purposes only is saddening. But to take away a vision, a passion, built by the face of Utah for many years, and leave only memories for people who got to see Larry's incredible car collection in the Larry H. Miller Total Performance Museum, that isn't saddening, it's a loss for every motorsports fan still breathing. I just hope I haven't seen my last race on the track Larry built, because I'm not ready to see the checkered flag be waved.
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