Atomic bombs with race fans

Speedway owner in talks to sell track to Nebraska trucking company


A Nebraska trucking company is eyeing a Roane County dirt-racing track for a new terminal site, as the speedway's owner says declining interest from local racers, fans and sponsors has forced him to put up the track for sale.

"I would like to see the track go on for 20 years," said Ed Adams, who bought Atomic Motor Speedway in January 2005. "But if the people have quit, if it's dying from within, there's nothing you could do about it."

Adams has been in talks with Crete Carrier Corp. of Lincoln, Neb., about selling the speedway to the long-haul carrier. A spokesman for Crete confirmed the company is trying to buy the property but declined to give further details.

At a meeting Tuesday, the Roane County Industrial Development Board unanimously recommended that the property be rezoned from commercial to light industrial, a first step toward Crete building a proposed terminal and refueling station on the roughly 25-acre parcel, said Leslie Henderson, president and CEO of Roane Alliance, an economic development organization.

Real estate agent Chip Miller of R.M. Moore Real Estate Co. attended the meeting along with a representative from Crete.

Miller said the deal has been in the works for about four months. He said the new terminal would consolidate Crete's operations in Knoxville and Johnson City and would employ about 50.

The rezoning is the only hurdle for the deal to clear, Miller said.

The speedway is on Buttermilk Road in Lenoir City, a short distance from Interstate 40 and the Roane Regional Business and Technology Park. Miller said he has received positive feedback about the zoning change from Roane County officials.

"I would imagine Roane County sees that as a chance to clean up an eyesore," Miller said. "They've lost several great economic partners due to the fact that they drive by the raceway."

Roane Alliance touts Atomic Motor Speedway on its Web site as a tourist attraction, but Henderson said the sale to Crete "makes a lot of sense."

"To have that (the Crete terminal) outside the boundary of the park is a more appropriate use of the property," she said. "It would bring in considerably more money on the tax rolls."

Henderson said the purchase price likely would be more than $1 million. The property was appraised last year at $797,100, according to state tax records.

Miller estimated Crete would invest $4.5 million to $5 million in the potential new terminal.

The next step in the rezoning process will be Nov. 29, when the Roane County Planning Commission looks at the request. If it passes, the full Roane County Commission will consider the matter.

The rezoning may face a speed bump from local race fans that celebrate Atomic's legacy and worry about a trend of East Tennessee speedways closing. On a local online racing message board, 49 people responded to a poll saying they would attend the Nov. 29 meeting to protest the zoning change.

Sandra Stout has a unique perspective on the situation. A longtime racing enthusiast, she and her family have raced at Atomic since it opened in 1970. But as a former Harriman city councilwoman, she understands the politics of zoning and economic development.

"I can see what the benefits of an operation like Crete would have on our tax base," Stout said. "But at the same time, I wonder if the property is even big enough to handle a big truck terminal. I question why Crete didn't look at our industrial park in Roane County."

Stout said she does not fault Adams for his decision to sell, but she wishes Atomic - touted as the "World's Fastest 1/3-mile Dirt Track" - could continue as a racetrack.

"It's wholesome, good family entertainment," she said, "and it's going to be missed when we take our local track away and call it progress."

Adams, who bought Atomic after selling his Lenoir City concrete business, said the economic realities of decreased interest and increased purse prices have compelled him to sell.

"Well, local fans and local racers have quit, and local business won't support it anymore because there's no fans to sell products to," he said. "We have given numerous tickets away, and people won't even come with a free ticket."

A race scheduled for today at Atomic has been canceled, and Adams said he's not sure if there will be more races this year. The final event of the season, the Golden Harvest 50, is scheduled for Nov. 25.

With numerous area racetracks closing in recent years, Adams said Atomic's struggles are part of a larger trend.

"There used to be a passion for dirt-track racing in this area," Adams said. "Everybody had an old racecar in their garage but you don't see that anymore."