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Promoter closes Baer Field Speedway for the season, future uncertain

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Follow Blake Sebring on Twitter at www.twitter.com/blakesebring and at his blog www.tailingthekomets.com.

Declining attendance, social media criticism led to decision

Thursday, July 3, 2014 - 7:57 pm

An early-afternoon posting Wednesday on Baer Field Speedway's website announced this weekend's races were cancelled and more information would follow.

A few hours later promoter Jon Raney announced he is cancelling the rest of the 2014 season, and ending his association with the track leaving its future uncertain.

"I don't want to go through this any more,'' Raney said. "The main problem is the decline of attendance for the grandstands and a lot of that is due to the racers tearing down the place on social media. I build up the facilities, and the racers don't reciprocate it to me. It's just a negative weight for me.''

Raney said social media attacks have poisoned the atmosphere among the racing community. Program director Bob Koorsen said no amount of advertising can make up for a negative post to a racer's 500 friends who are the target audience.

The track celebrated its 50th anniversary last year at 4331 Winters Road as Raney, 50, took over from the retiring Tom Isch who then passed away. Raney increased prize money, cleaned up the track, modernized the restrooms and eliminated ticket costs for those age 12 and younger. He also had a three-year plan to work on the grandstands, track, lighting and a new scoreboard.

Unfortunately, average attendance dropped from about 1,400 fans per night last year to 750 this season. Poor weather has not helped as about a third of the scheduled nights have been canceled. Last year an event was canceled because of sweltering heat.

Last week, the speedway had to cancel Saturday night's event at 1:30 p.m. because of ongoing rain and a forecast which said it would continue. Then the rain stopped, but it was too late to alert fans.

"I couldn't win in that situation,'' Raney. "There was not going to be any crowd because it was raining right now, and the forecast is still telling us it's going to rain. Then it stopped raining and we got attacked again. We could have raced out there, but we wouldn't have gotten any fans.''

Raney also canceled Wednesday night practices because so few participants were showing up. He said it was costing him $500 to open the track for practices.

Another problem has been driver discontent over new rules Raney said he was forced to implement because of insurance policies. Because a driver was injured last year during a wreck, cars were required to have collapsible steering wheels this season.

"We have no control over insurance and what they require,'' Raney said. "We implemented that rule according to the insurance and you would have thought we were the worst people alive for that because it cost them an extra $120. We fought that all year.

"The insurance company requires shirts and no open-toed shoes in the pit area, and we had to enforce the rules. I had a guy last week tell me he would kill me before putting a shirt on. I told some lady she had to put some sandals on or leave the pits and she told me to F- off. I've just been beaten up over the speedway.''

Raney said he's also received threatening calls at his trucking business and can't afford to jeopardize that because of the racetrack. He has three years left on his deal as promoter with the speedway but is open to offers.

"I've been thinking about it for the last month,'' he said. "I was trying to think of all kinds of different ways to make it work. Last year was fun, but this year has been really hard. I really hate doing this. I was a racer at heart. The worst thing is it's like a slap to the face because you are putting your heart and soul out there working for people who don't appreciate it.''

The track opened May 22, 1964.