Update: Heartland Motorsports Park says farewell after this year’s NHRA event

Published: Jul. 28, 2023 at 2:06 PM CDT
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Heartland Motorsports Park is saying farewell after this year’s NHRA event.

Heartland Motorsports Park said in a press release that Heartland will host the last and final NHRA National Event on Aug. 11-13, in Topeka, Kan. Officials said Shawnee County is succeeding in taxing Heartland out of business with their excessive land valuation and property taxes.

The owners of Heartland Motorsports Park have lost the latest round in their legal battle with Shawnee Co. over property values.

The Kansas Court of Appeals issued a ruling Friday, saying Shelby Development did not show evidence supporting its claims it was harmed by what Shelby claimed was an overvaluation of the racetrack property in South Topeka. Therefore, the Appeals Court stated the district court was correct in issuing summary judgment for the county.

“Shelby has never explained how it sustained a reduction in the value of its property, lost profitability of the premises, increased tax liabilities, decreased net income, or other damages caused by the County appraisers’ actions,” the court wrote in its 24-page ruling. “Shelby had the burden to present some specific evidence supporting its damage claims. It has simply failed to do so.”

Chris Payne, managing member of Shelby, filed the lawsuit in 2019. It claimed the County Appraiser’s Office had illegally and improperly conducted a valuation of the property. They claimed the county persuaded a third party to change the property’s valuation from $5.5 million to $10.4 million. Claims included negligence, fraud, conspiracy and breach of contract.

A Shawnee Co. District Court judge dismissed the lawsuit in April. Afterward, Payne stated if he could not successfully appeal the decision, the track’s future in Topeka was in doubt.

“Unfortunately, the wheels of justice turn slowly, and Shawnee County has succeeded in running Heartland Motorsports Park out of business before a potential trial can occur,” Payne said in a statement he issued in May. “Hundreds of local part-time and full-time men and women employed by Heartland, NHRA Nationals, and the Country Stampede will no longer have a job. The Community will not have several of the state’s largest events. Hundreds of thousands of spectators, fans, racers, crew, and vendors will no longer come to the City of Topeka of the State of Kansas to enjoy these events and support the local economies.”

13 NEWS reached out to Payne for comment on the Appeals Court ruling and is awaiting a response.

For their part, Shawnee Co. officials have said Payne neglected to follow established procedure for appealing property valuations.

In its Friday ruling, the Appeals Court agreed.

“There is an order to this system, and it begins with determinations of an administrative agency, the Board of Tax Appeals,” the court wrote. “When the plaintiff complains that the assessed valuation of its real property is too high, the plaintiff must exhaust administrative remedies before resorting to the courts.”

The Appeals Court did find some merit to Shelby’s complaints about not being told about an initial appraisal that was lower than the $10.4 million. However, the Appeals Court said it ultimately came back to the question of damages. Since Shelby later reached a settlement for a $7.5 million value, it could now show evidence of damages from the $10.4 million figure.

Heartland Motorsports Park said the first NHRA National Event took place in 1989 in Topeka, Kan., and Heartland is home to some of the greatest world records set in professional drag racing.

Officials with Heartland Motorsports Park said thirty-four years ago, Topeka’s National Event immediately became one of the premier events in Kansas and in the heartland of the nation. The event draws fans, racers, support crew and families, and vendors from all over North America. Though the Park is only open to the public about 80 days a year, Heartland has grown its events to collectively draw hundreds of thousands of people annually to Topeka and the state of Kansas.

Officials with Heartland Motorsports Park noted to make the last NHRA National Event in Topeka, Kan., a lasting and special event for the ages. Be there to bid a fond farewell to NHRA and all the professional racers, such as the legendary John Force, who has competed in almost every Topeka National event.

But for four -time world champion with over one hundred NHRA wins and 50 plus years of racing experience, Jeff Taylor says losing the track will have a big impact on the sport.

“This is business we do this for a living and its bad and you know we’re losing race tracks everywhere and a facility like this is probably one of the nicest ones, its got lots of parking and just lots to do here its going to be devastating to the sport to lose this,” says racer, Jeff Taylor. “We’ve raced here a lot. I know it draws a lot of cars. I was here a few years ago they had almost 800 hundred cars. Its got to be huge. I know it’s huge for the surrounding businesses, the restaurants, the motels, the grocery stores. Its gotta be a big impact for that and to lose the race track I think it would be devastating for the city.”

All area Menard’s stores are selling single-day tickets as a “buy one and get the second ticket free.”

NHRA officials announced on Friday, July 28 that the new Flying H Dragstrip in the Kansas City area will be part of the upcoming NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series national event schedule in 2024.

“We have a rich history at Heartland Motorsports Park and we want to thank Chris Payne and his team for many years supporting NHRA drag racing,” NHRA President Glen Cromwell said. “But as one door closes, another opens and we are looking forward to the great opportunity of racing in the Kansas City area at a brand new facility. Scott Higgs and his team are building a fantastic new track at Flying H Dragstrip and we are excited to have our first event there in 2024 and create a wealth of new memories in the area.”