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Future of raceway becomes uncertain due to owner decision to sell property

Sun Advocate reporter

Harvey Howard looks on as his mechanic assesses the damage to Howard's race car.

The future of one of Carbon County's popular sports venues is a little hazy right now as the owner is seeking a buyer for his property.

Harvey Howard approached the Carbon commissioners last Wednesday and proposed selling the Desert Thunder Raceway to the county.

Howard told Commissioners Mike Milovich and Bill Krompel that his work and personal schedules are getting in the way of the time he can dedicate to the race track.

Commissioner Steven Burge was not in attenadance at the Nov. 7 meeting.

"Time constraints are making it hard for me to promote the raceway the way it should be promoted," said Howard in a phone interview Friday. "This has all come up in the past five or six months because I have so many hobbies and I realized something had to go. It was a hard decision."

Howard stressed to the commissioners last Wednesday how important it is to keep the raceway operating.

"As a key recreational and cultural aspect, the raceway is very valuable to the county," said Howard. "It's a big positive. We've had people out there from as far away as Canada."

Milovich and Krompel seemed a bit dismayed at the possible loss of Desert Thunder, but stressed that purchase by the county did not seem feasible at this point. They both lauded Howard's work in making the spot so successful.

"When the county had it (the raceway), it wasn't doing very well," said Krompel."Since you bought it you have really turned it around. And right now the county is strapped in both resources and people."

Krompel added that, for the sporting venue to be a success, the owner needs to have expertise and passion.

Watching Howard hug the curves and kick up dust Saturday as he sped around the 3/8 mile dirt track in his number 72 modified, it was pretty apparent that he has the passion and undoubtedly the expertise to which the commissioner eluded. What he says he does not have is the time.

"I race cars, I have three kids and a full time job," he said. "I need about two or three incomes just to keep going and this just hasn't become a part of my income."

Desert Thunder's history has been pretty rocky, especially the first few years. It was built in the 1980s, but was shut down after a few years and sat silent for six years until 1991 when the Central Utah Stock Car Racing Association (CUSCA) breathed new life into it.

According to information from CUSCA, Howard was president of the association at the time.

Six years later the track was purchased by Chuck Buchanan and a round of improvements were accomplished to concessions and spectator parking. Four years after the 1997 Buchanan purchase Howard became the owner.

Saturday, the raceway was humming with the deafening roars of engines as the drivers tore up the track stirring up teeth-gritting amounts of dust during a day of practice runs.

"Crazy" Kenny Parish's crew Shawn Parish, Ken Jackson, Brett Alderson and Dick Godin shared their views on the importance the Desert Thunder Raceway Saturday.

"Crazy" Kenny Parish's crew and compadres had plenty of comments about the possible loss the raceway.

" I do not want to see this go away," said Brett Alderson, who pointed out he has been there from the beginning. "I helped him (Howard) start this track in 1991.

Parish agreed that the prospect of the raceway changing hands was unsettling.

"It's scary," said Parish. "Somebody might come in here and run it like a business. Harvey runs it like a hobby."

And the hobby is apparently popular with thousands of area residents and visitors from around the nation, according to Howard.

"I have done studies and found that the other recreational venues in the county pull in about 1 percent of the population, during our season we have almost 5 percent who come to the races."

While Howard is resigned to letting his baby go, he said he is trying to keep the raceway alive if it's at all possible.

"I could turn it over to a realtor and have them sell it as property," he said. "But I'm not sure that will happen."

Howard indicated that he is exploring the idea of leasing the raceway to a group that would keep it running. He also told the board that if the county were to buy the racetrack he would continue to help out.

"What I know I am going to get when word gets out about my intentions is 'don't let it go away,'" said Howard at Wednesday's meeting. "So I would be willing to be an advisor in some capacity."

A final answer on the possible county purchase was not given at the meeting. Instead, the commissioners recommended that Howard come back with a formal proposal letter for the county's review.

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