The Absolut Cycling Experience will go on as planned Saturday and Sunday at the New Jersey Motorsports Park.
The Millville facility filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy Monday, but a news release stated the move was about restructuring debt and would not affect the 2011 schedule or other on-track operations.
The Absolut Cycling Experience, an instructional event run by a motorcycle retail store, will be the park’s first event since the filing.
“I haven’t seen a hiccup,” said Roy Cadoo, CEO of Absolut Cycle, which is based in Rahway, Union County, but recently opened a store in Millville to serve the track’s clients. “This is a common practice in business that has been done before. I’m not too concerned.”
Racetracks generally operate on one-year contracts with racing series, so the long-term effects of the move on major races such as Grand-Am, the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) and the Automobile Racing Club of America (ARCA) will not be immediately known. All three of those series are expected to hold races this year at NJMP’s Thunderbolt Raceway, one of the park’s two road courses. The park also features Lightning Raceway and a karting track.
Grand-Am Managing Director of Communications Herb Branham said he is still optimistic about the future of his series’ races at NJMP, including the Rolex Sports Car Series, which was the first spectator event when the $50 million facility opened in July 2008.
“From a purely racing standpoint, apparently the schedule is not affected, and we’re planning on being there July 22-24,” Branham said. “That’s an important place to race with the Philadelphia media that come to that racetrack. It’s a nice, new facility, a cool place to race. We want to come there.”
ARCA President Ron Drager said Monday evening that he was still waiting for NJMP General Manager Brad Scott to return his phone call, but Scott had reassured him in an e-mail that “we were business as usual going forward.” Like Grand-Am, ARCA has held races at NJMP in all three of the park’s seasons.
“We have seen motorsports companies do this and come out on the other side and be OK, and of course we have seen companies that attempted to make it through and didn’t,” Drager said. “We would be hopeful that the plan that Lee (Brahin, an NJMP owner) and Brad and all those folks at New Jersey have put in place is one that’s going to make sense. We’d like to be part of helping them through it.”
One organization that appears unlikely to help them through it, however, is RallyCar. That organization held all four events of its inaugural U.S. Rallycross Championship at NJMP last year, but it announced last week that Millville is not one of the six races on its 2011 schedule.
RallyCar Managing Director J.B. Niday declined to comment on the bankruptcy filing, but said in a statement last week that “the attendance and ticket sales were far less than expected.”
“I would very much like to add a seventh event back at NJMP if both parties’ financial requirements can be met and a satisfactory date agreed upon,” Niday said in the statement.
Officials at AMA, which has drawn the two biggest crowds in the park’s history — although attendance figures are not announced — did not return phone calls seeking comment.
Members of NJMP’s Drivers Club said they were not necessarily surprised by the bankruptcy filing, but they maintained cautious optimism.
“This happening gives me maybe a little bit more confidence in the long-term viability of the whole process,” said David Donohue, a Grand-Am star who lives in Malvern, Pa., and is a Drivers Club member. “We know their financial issues, and you never know how that’s going to pan out in the future, and maybe this is how it’s going to pan out. The doors are going to remain open, and nobody new is going to lose their jobs. The track’s not going away. It’s been built. It doesn’t just disappear. It’s just what happens to it.”
Drivers Club member Jim Lowe, who lives in Bryn Mawr, Pa., but works as a neurosurgeon in Linwood, said the park’s financial issues have not hurt the membership experience.
“From the point of view of the consumer, driver and member, I hadn’t been aware of anything,” said Lowe, who also is a part-time Grand-Am driver/owner. “It’s still hard to book a day at that track for testing. It’s not a track that is closed down and shut down and nonfunctional.
“When I first saw the e-mail (informing members of the filing), I took a deep breath about Chapter 11, as anybody would. But from the conclusion, they’re adamant about (succeeding long term). It sounds to me like they’re doing a prudent and appropriate restructuring in order to remain functioning and up and running.”
Lowe and Donohue each pointed out that running a profitable racing facility is extremely difficult. Sometimes deep-pocketed owners keep tracks open in the early years despite a lack of revenue. Some tracks have not been so lucky, such as Bridgehampton Race Circuit in Long Island, which held its last race in 1997 after decades of financial problems.
“Tracks aren’t easy to run,” Donohue said. “There’s been turnover at even some of the biggest places. Sebring (Fla.), Mosport (Ontario), Road Atlanta. Some don’t survive, like Ontario and Bridgehampton. There are tracks that just disappear. Whatever happened to Vineland?”
Amateur driver Louis Casazza, a retired Vineland schoolteacher, said Vineland Speedway stopped holding races in 1965 because the owner of part of its land decided to stop leasing it to the racetrack.
Casazza said he was “absolutely surprised” to hear about NJMP’s bankruptcy.
“I’m just amazed,” Casazza said. “I enjoyed the track. I did not know that they were in major financial trouble.”
The drivers and series executives all said they do not know the extent of the financial trouble due to the complicated nature of bankruptcy law.
But one thing appears certain. Motorcycles will be zooming around the track at the Absolut Cycling Experience this weekend.
“Either the park gets completely dozed and the gates are locked, or everybody comes into an agreement, which it looks like it’s a restructuring,” said Cadoo, the Absolut Cycle CEO. “It’s not an end. The only thing you can do is stay positive. I don’t think the park’s in it to go bankrupt and close. They’re trying to find ways to keep the revenues going.”
2011 park schedule
April 9-10: 24 Hours of “Lemons”
April 30: Devil in the Dark 12 Hour Endurance race
May 13-15: NJMP Sportbike Championship Cup Series
May 21-22: ARCA Stock Car Series presented by RE/MAX; RoadMods Battle of the Dirt Cars
May 28-29: New Jersey Vintage Grand Prix Festival of Speed
June 3-5: South Jersey Regional SCAA National Championship
July 15-17: NJMP Sportbike Championship Cup Series
July 22-24: Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series
Aug. 13-14: NJMP Sportbike Championship Cup Series
Sept. 2-4: AMA Pro Superbike
Sept. 13-14: NJMP Sportbike Championship Cup Series
Sept. 29-Oct. 2: Sportscar Vintage Racing Association races
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