By Craig Pearson
TERRE HAUTE — The Vigo County Fair Board is still considering its options for the next in line to promote racing at the Terre Haute Action Track, said Pete Plant, who has led the search for a new promoter.
A group that includes Mike King, chief announcer for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network; Brian Dorsett, local businessman and former Major League Baseball player; and Davey Hamilton, IndyCar driver and announcer; is making its case to become the next in charge of the famed half-mile dirt oval.
Former Action Track promoter Bob Sargent was considered one leading candidate for the job. According to King, that is no longer the case.
“We were informed a few weeks back that our proposal had not been chosen, that Bob Sargent’s proposal had been selected over ours,” said King, who added that things have changed recently. “I received a call from Bob that said he would be unable to fulfill his proposal.”
Sargent confirmed to the Tribune-Star on Wednesday that this is basically true.
“Some things didn’t come together that we had hoped would come together,” Sargent said. “So we wanted to give the fair board enough time to work something out with another promoter.”
Sargent added that he’s part of groups that own two weekly tracks and promote events at several other tracks, so his schedule was already close to full.
“I still think the Terre Haute Action Track is a great facility,” Sargent emphasized. “I still feel like I have a great relationship with the fair board.”
Plant, a member of the Vigo County Fair Board, would not speak about the King or Sargent proposals and did not confirm that Sargent was no longer a candidate to become the track’s promoter.
“We’ve talked to several companies and organizations about the track,” Plant said without mentioning any names. “There’s two that showed the most interest.
After a 2007 season that was one of the most tumultuous ever at the Action Track, the fair board is taking its time to consider its options.
“We’re working toward trying to find the proper person for the best of the community,” Plant said.
No contracts had been written as of this past weekend, Plant said Friday, but he said something should be decided in the near future.
“We hope to have something ironed out within the next week,” Plant said.
King believes his group can best serve Wabash Valley racing fans.
“We have reiterated to Pete Plant, chairman of race committee, that we would very much like to take over promotional rights,” King said.
King said the experience and reputation that he and Hamilton have in racing, combined with Dorsett’s reputation in the Terre Haute business community, is a combination that will succeed.
Hamilton, who finished ninth in the 2007 Indianapolis 500, has been involved with operating Meridian Speedway outside of Boise, Idaho, for the past 20 years. Hamilton also has a home in Avon and the 45-year-old hopes to race in the Indianapolis 500 again in 2008.
Hamilton said in a phone interview that it’s premature to talk in detail about the prospects for the Action Track.
“We hope to get it,” he said Wednesday.
King conceded it might be a challenge to get fans back at the Action Track after a season in which only one race took place. And that race, the U.S. Auto Club-sanctioned Tony Hulman Classic, was shut down because of curfew restrictions.
Since then, promoter Dave Allison and the fair board have severed ties. It’s been tough for King, who resides in Terre Haute with his family, to watch the Action Track suffer.
“It’s almost like seeing someone in your family held hostage,” King said. “I don’t know what [Allison] was thinking. The only good thing is that part of it’s over.”
Wabash Valley racing fans will come back with the right product.
“Race fans are kind of a unique breed anyway,” King said. “They are resilient, to say the least. But I will say this, we are well aware that race fans in Terre Haute and the surrounding area, when it comes to the Action Track, have been poorly treated in terms of their entertainment dollar for several years. Our goal would be to make events at the track affordable, make them competitive with a great race track and would want to pay special attention for fans to be out of the facility and home before 11:30 [p.m.] or [midnight]. We want shows to be conducted in a real efficient manner.”
King said he, Dorsett and Hamilton can turn things around.
“In my mind, we are running out of chances to turn that place around,” King said, adding that money would be put back into making the track better for the fans. “I know it would take convincing to get some of the fans back. We plan on doing everything we need to do to ensure that their money will be well spent.”
King emphasized that he, Dorsett and Hamilton would bring a group that can be trusted and make the Action Track a special place again.
“Fans need a promotional group that can be trusted,” King said. “They need to know that those people are telling them the truth. We’re bringing our reputations to the table.”
King said that his and Sargent’s plans for the track are much different. While he said Sargent wanted to run close to a weekly card at the track, King’s group hopes to revive traditional races at the track.
“I don’t think neighbors want to hear race cars on the track every Saturday,” King said.
King said he sought out Don Smith, CEO of Terre Haute First Financial Bank, for advice.
“You need a handful of really good, well-promoted events,” King said. “If you were at Action Track [when Smith promoted races], you knew you were at a big race. The Action Track is a track with a real track with a history. It’s not Lincoln Park and not Paragon.
“It’s a special track and deserves to be treated that way.”
King is under the impression that the facility does not need extreme improvements.
However, rebuilding relationships with organizations such as USAC would be key.
“Before we even submitted a proposal, we met with [USAC officials],” King said. “USAC wants to be at the Action Track as badly as we want them to be there. They want to be there in the right way, in the right situation.”
Tribune-Star sports reporter David Hughes contributed to this report.