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Auto Racing: Racing nearly a sure thing at RRVS

Last week, after nearly going the way of the Ford Pinto, the Red River Valley Speedway received a breath of new life.

On March 9, during a special meeting that lasted all of five minutes, the Red River Valley Fair Board voted unanimously to approve a lease agreement with area businessman and race aficionado Danny Schatz. All that is left to seal the deal is a signature from Schatz, who should be returning from Arizona sometime this week.

For RRVF General Manager Bryan Schulz, the agreement is a welcome end to a somewhat harried negotiation process; one that already ended once two weeks ago when Schatz pulled his offer.

Lucky for race fans, it didn't end there.

"We put it out there that we'd be willing to bring it back to the table," Schulz said. Shortly thereafter, new track manager, Ivan Sailer, got it touch with the fair board. "So we set up a meeting and got everything worked out, and that's where we brought the contract," Schulz said

But the deal didn't come to fruition without compromises on both ends. Originally, friction occurred when Schatz wanted to run addition races besides the 20 mentioned in the contract. The final straw came when Schatz proposed a race during Big Iron, one of RRVF's largest events of the year.

But that wasn't possible, and he pulled his offer.

"We can't give him a 365-day lease, because we have stuff we're doing, too," Schulz said.

In the new contract, he still won't be allowed to race during Big Iron, Schulz said, but 10 additional days were added on as "special events." If Schatz wishes to hold a race other than the regularly scheduled 20 Wednesday nights, which will occur between May 1 and Sept. 20, he first must seek the board's approval.

If a Wednesday race night gets cancelled because of inclement weather, a makeup day can be held the following Thursday without it counting against the contracted days.

The contract runs through Dec. 31, 2012, with an option to renew for an additional year. The lease is for $20,000 per year, plus utilities.

The speedway also is getting a major overhaul.

When Schatz originally stepped forward with a contract last fall, he almost immediately began work on shortening the track from a half-mile to a three-eighth-mile oval. Now, he also is planning to implement a retention pond on the southeast side of the speedway to help with drainage in the pits.

"What he wants to do is divert all the water from the inside of the infield," Schulz said.

When word first broke that negotiations ended, the fair board received the brunt of the public backlash. A Facebook page even was created asking for signatures to boycott the Red River Valley Fair.

Schulz said the finger-pointing was unnecessary.

"We got a lot of flack," he said. "If the racing community would have gotten behind us instead of against us, it would have gone a lot smoother and a lot faster.

"We didn't want it to die either."

Now, it seems, race fans can breathe a sigh of relief.