The St. Clair Board of Aldermen unanimously denied two car racing requests during Tuesday night’s meeting.
MSR LLC, Drag Racing and Street Racing, and Midwest Drag Racing applied to host car racing events that would take place at the former site of the airport. Last year, the JJ Arm Drop Race events were held at that location where an estimated 8,000 attended.
The reason why the events were not approved was because the city would not be covered by its insurance provider if an incident were to happen during a racing event.
“We had a very long sit down talk with our risk carrier and they said in no uncertain terms, they would not cover anything associated with racing,” Mayor Ron Blum said. “They went as far as saying that ‘We will not defend you in a lawsuit on anything that includes racing.’ ”
He added that the city was not insured during the JJ Arm Drop Race events, which was “mainly my mistake because I didn’t do my due diligence.”
“We thought it would be a big event and we feel like it was a good event for the city, but we learned a lot,” Blum said.
In addition to a lack of insurance, Blum said there are not permanent safety fixtures at the airport property, among other items needed for racing. He added that the decision to deny the events is not a popular one, but a responsible one.
City Administrator Travis Dierker said a research study on racing was completed and there were multiple discussions held with different insurance carriers. He added that the main concerns are safety and liability.
“If something catastrophic were to happen, we would not have any type of coverage whatsoever from our current risk management carrier,” Dierker said.
He noted that the board has to think of what is best for St. Clair residents.
“For those citizens, it’s hard to defend allowing this type of event to occur at the facility knowing the potential liability and risk,” Dierker said.
Alderwoman Amanda Sikes said after last year’s racing events, she received complaints from residents about the noise and traffic the events caused.
“Even beyond the insurance issue, all of our citizens are definitely not in favor of an event like this,” she said.
Alderman Art Viehland said he heard that traffic was backed up on Highway 47 all the way to Union.
“I don’t know what you can do to control that,” he said. “You can’t make those cars shrink any smaller than what they already are and get into the lots quicker.”
In addition to traffic, Viehland reiterated concerns that the city’s insurance carrier would not provide them with legal services if someone were to sue.
“We can’t put the city at risk if there’s a lawsuit,” he said.
Alderwoman Janet Viehland said her concerns are safety and liability too.
“We have to do what we feel is best for the city even if it might not be agreeable to a few,” she said.
Blum said a lot of people have worked hard over the past 10 years to acquire the airport property back from the FFA and the future of the property will be retail development.
“That’s what our goal is and we’re still going to move forward with that,” Blum said.
Sikes added that these events do not generate a large amount of tax revenue for the city.
“Events like this really don’t financially benefit the city a whole lot, which I think is something that most people are not aware of,” she said. “It is good to have people in our town, but as far as tax revenue from their purchases and stuff, the amount the city sees is microscopic.”
The board voted 3-0 in favor of denying the requests to hold racing events at the airport property. Alderman Greg Talleur was absent from the meeting.
About the Events
Before the board discussion, Dave Sewell, with Midwest Drag Racing and Street Racing, said he participated in the JJ Arm Drop Race and thought the event was great for the city.
The event that was denied would have featured street racers versus track racers. Sewell said the organization’s top priorities are safety and crowd control.
“We’ve done all of our research from the barriers to everything we possibly need for the race,” he said.
The event would have included a $10,000 big tire race and a $10,000 small tire race, according to Sewell.
“We think we’re going to attract people from all over the country. When you put that kind of money up for grabs, it brings a lot of people in. It’ll be good for the city,” he said.
The organization MSR, LLC, applied to host three races that would have been in April, June and October, according to Chris Calkins. The small first event would have been small with easy access for emergency vehicles, he said. The June event would have taken place over two days and the October event would have been open to all racers with a limited number of entries.
“We’re trying to start small, learn, do it right, keep it safe and then grow from there,” he said.
Rick Cook, with Midwest Drag Racing, mentioned races that the organization had in the past where there were no incidents.
“We’ve been doing this for a long time, so we want to make sure you guys understand it’s just not a fly by night thing. It’s going to be professional run,” he said. “Safety for the people and the drivers is a concern, but it’s also to make sure it brings some money and revenue to the city.”
During public comment, Troy LaCrone thanked city officials for their explanation of why they denied the events. Bernadette Duell also thanked the board for taking the time to listen to their request.