Rumors give way to hard fact: Speedway's scheduled for leveling

Dan Obrist hadn't heard the rumor of Portland Speedway's rebirth, but he has something to say about the race track.

'I'm tearing it down,' says Obrist, a star stock car driver at the speedway who also owns a Portland recycling and demolition company. 'Pulling out the walls, digging up the dirt. Just signed the contract yesterday (Tuesday).

'And as soon as I pull the first board, I'll drop the first tear.'

For 77 years, Portland Speedway featured stock cars on either a dirt track or paved half-mile oval, then two years of Outlaw cars on another dirt oval in 2000 and 2001. With the prospect of mixed-use development on the property and speedway operators unable to make improvements because of their short-term lease, racing ceased there in 2002.

Dirt and dilapidated grandstands remain on the site, and Obrist plans to level everything in the coming months. Developer Tom Moyer has dropped plans to develop the property, which, along with the adjacent Portland Meadows property, has multiple owners.

'It's just going to sit there,' Obrist says. 'Nobody has come close to asking (the owners) about it.'

Craig Armstrong, the speedway's former general manager, has heard rumors that he will return from his job of running Atlanta Dragway in Georgia to restart the racing program at Portland Speedway.

'To the best of my knowledge, it's just talk and wishful thinking,' Armstrong says. 'In terms of will it be revitalized, an angel would have to descend with a lot of money. I think it would take $2 million, for a paved oval, and it'd have to be a one-track situation, like a 3/8-mile. They'd have to flatten down the area, raise it and put up temporary grandstands with proper bracings. The lights are also gone now.'

And, Armstrong says, 'the landowners would have to provide an unencumbered long-term lease, minimum 10 to 15 years, ideally 20 years, not with the stipulation that at any given time they can kick you out for something else. Without that kind of lease, it would kill anybody's desire to invest in it.

'I'm not saying it couldn't be done. I would applaud it and be very happy. The fact is nobody has shared anything with me, other than idle talk and rumors and 'Wouldn't it be nice?' '

Members of the ownership group could not be reached for comment.

In its time the speedway spawned the careers of NASCAR great Hershel McGriff and Winston Cup driver Greg Biffle. Obrist says the beginning of the end occurred when Armstrong arranged for the paved oval to be replaced by dirt to accommodate the Outlaws. At the time, Armstrong was grasping for ways to make money for improvements.

Obrist, a Late Model championship contender for years, still races on Washington ovals, as do many other Portland area drivers. He would welcome another operator at Portland Speedway.

'It would be me if I win the lottery,' he says.

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