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By BY MIKE GRIFFITH Californian staff writer email@example.com
Bakersfield businessman James Vernon is part of a group of investors who have purchased the partially finished Kern County Raceway Park near Enos Lane and Interstate 5.
The sale of the 490 acres, which was foreclosed on in June 2010, was announced Wednesday. The land has been dormant since construction stopped on the half-mile paved racetrack project in 2008.
“I talked to a few guys here in town and some partners in Vegas and we decided to make this happen,” Vernon said. “We’ve been working on this deal for six months.
“It’s a long ways from being ready, probably a year. We’d like to be ready for testing in six months and maybe have a race in the fall.”
The track could fill a local stock car racing void that was created when Mesa Marin Raceway, a paved half-mile track in east Bakersfield, was closed in October 2005.
Dan Smith, the project coordinator, Smith estimated the new track, which features a half-mile paved oval with another quarter-mile track within it, is 80 percent complete.
Smith said a base coat is done and the group hopes to have asphalt down and cured by mid-August, gearing toward a first race in mid- to late October.
“If everything goes like we hope, we’d like to have more than one race in the fall,” Smith said. “We just want to keep it on track to make it a very nice place to go to.”
Ground breaking on the track took place in February 2007 with racing planned for 2008, but the project ran into money problems before the year ended. A $4.5 million loan was made to Enos Lane Farm Properties LLC, managed by Alan Destefani in March 2008. Construction slowed to a crawl as the year wore on and a default notice on the $4.5-million loan was filed in December 2008.
The project entered into bankruptcy protection in May 2009 and was foreclosed on in June. At that time there were nearly $8 million in liens against the property, most from construction companies.
“The liens were paid by the people we bought the property from; we have a clear title on it,” Vernon said. “All the (building) permits were renewed and we’re ready to go. All it will take is a ton of money and a lot of hard work.”
Work has already started — clearing thousands of tumbleweeds from the property.
“It’ll take about three weeks to clear (the property) and see where we can get started,” Vernon said.
One person glad to hear of the plans to finish the track was Bakersfield native and NASCAR Sprint Cup star Kevin Harvick.
“Racing is part of the culture in this town and it’s something a lot of the people I deal with here want to be involved with,” said Harvick, who was in Bakersfield to be inducted into the Bob Elias Kern County Hall of Fame. “I hope it all comes through. I’ll have to give James a call and and see what it entails.”
Harvick started his oval racing career on the old Mesa Marin Raceway.
“The racetracks, whether it’s the dirt track (Bakersfield Speedway) or Mesa Marin have been well supported over the years. There’s a need for it in my opinion,” he said.
— Californian staff writer Rachel Cook contributed to this story.