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Stock car racers compete Aug. 6, 2008, at the KRA Speedway at the Kandiyohi County Fairgrounds in Willmar. Tribune file photo by Rand Middleton

Willmar residents cite 'reneging' on speedway agreement

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WILLMAR -- Residents on Willmar's north side say there's been some reneging on a "gentlemen's agreement'' reached about five years ago that set closing times and the number of races held at the KRA Speedway, located at the Kandiyohi County Fairgrounds on the city's north side.

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Seven north side residents cited a number of problems associated with the race track during a meeting Thursday afternoon of the Willmar City Council's Community Development Committee.

Among the nuisance issues cited by the residents were dust and dirt created by racing activity. Resident Fred Cogelow presented a five-gallon pail containing clay deposited on the street from vehicles at the track. The clay is difficult for the Public Works Department to remove when it becomes packed by vehicles and creates dust when it dries, he said.

Other detriments cited by Cogelow and others were race car exhaust fumes and race track mud getting into Foot Lake.

Under an agreement worked out in April 2003 by a race track task force, closing time on school nights would be 10 p.m.; closing time on non-school nights would be 10:30 p.m.; and KRA would schedule no more than 18 races during the year.

Last year, and maybe years before, the closing times were changed to 10:15 on school nights and 10:45 on non-school nights, and there were more than 18 KRA races scheduled, said resident Richard Huesing.

This year, there are 21 races scheduled stretching from May 7 to Sept. 26, he said.

"Clearly the agreement is falling apart and the city should reinstate its work in setting up a licensing agreement for the races that are being held at the fairgrounds,'' he said.

"The city should recognize this is a problem that hurts the quality of life in Willmar and should not be tolerated,'' Huesing said.

No one was present from the KRA Speedway, but committee members' agenda packet included a March 6, 2009, letter from KRA supporter Charlie Nelson. The letter reported on 2008 KRA activities and said, among other things, that the time limit worked very well.

"The only night the program ran over was during the first night of the Fall Festival. It rained for 20 minutes and soaked the track. The program ended at 11:30 p.m.,'' Nelson wrote.

In September 2004, the race track task force recommended the council create an ordinance to license the track and incorporate the closing times and number of races. No ordinance was created, but the recommendations were implemented by the agreement.

Committee Chairman Bruce DeBlieck said he did not remember the council ever acting on an ordinance to license the race track.

Ron Christianson said City Attorney Rich Ronning told the council that the city cannot stop the races but can regulate noise and nuisance issues.

Committee member Jim Dokken asked the residents to present a list of their concerns. Committee members voted to direct city staff to communicate the residents' concerns to KRA and to invite KRA representatives to the next committee meeting.

The discussion prompted committee member Steve Ahmann to propose talks begin with the Kandiyohi County Fair Board to explore the possibility of moving the race track to a different location.

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