In a special meeting to determine the fate of the historic Hutchinson Raceway Park at the fairgrounds, the Kansas State Fair Board voted unanimously to delay the decision until Jan. 9 to allow further research into the matter.
The board was expected to either go ahead with its decision to demolish the 110-year-old dirt race track to make room for additional parking and possibly a new arena or to rescind that decision and potentially accept a proposal for future operations.
“It’s not an either/or decision,” state Rep. Paul Waggoner told the board.
Board members acknowledged that the issue is complex and may require RFPs through the state before making any decision.
To do that research, the board created an ad hoc committee charged with presenting its findings to the board at the Jan. 9 meeting.
Committee members selected are Dylan Evans, Bob Atkisson and John Leslie from the Kansas State Fair Board, Kayla Savage from the Kansas Department of Commerce, William Nusser, organizer of the Save our Track Coalition and Phil Nightingale of Mel Hambleton Ford of Wichita.
The board also plans to add a member from the City of Hutchinson and another from the Hutch Chamber.
The board first voted in November 2022 to demolish the 110-year-old race track, citing lack of use. That decision only recently drew widespread public attention in June when the board promoted the 67th Hutchinson Grand Nationals as the last ever.
On Nov. 14, hundreds of community members from across the state appeared before the fair board to express their concerns about the board’s previous decision to demolish the race park.
At that meeting, two groups introduced proposals to keep the 110-year-old race track facility operating at the fairgrounds, including C. Ray Hall of the National Championship Racing Association and Phil Nightingale of Mel Hambleton Ford of Wichita.
Hall, who organizes the Hutchinson Grand National Championship, proposed to increase rent and allow the fairgrounds to keep a larger revenue from concessions, while his organization handles the execution of the yearly event and expenses related to it.
In Nightingale’s proposal, Mel Hambleton Ford would be responsible for all track operations and expenses and would upgrade the concrete barriers, improve the infield pit area and racing surface, and shorten the track slightly to 3/8 of a mile after 2024.
William Nusser, organizer of the Save Our Track coalition, said then he still had faith the board would listen to the citizens who don’t want to see the race track demolished.
“I still have faith that the board is going to listen,” Nusser said. “If you look at the room standing room only without notice … the interest is there.”
As reported in The Hutchinson News