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Crowd attends hearing on proposed North Pole drag racing strip

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Posted: Wednesday, November 13, 2013 12:05 am | Updated: 7:22 am, Wed Nov 13, 2013.

FAIRBANKS — The Interior Alaska racing community came out in force on Tuesday night to support a proposed drag racing strip in North Pole, as did neighbors worried about the noise created by high-horsepower engines.

The Fairbanks North Star Borough Planning Commission heard nearly three hours of public testimony from a packed chamber of racers and neighbors about the proposed half-mile racing strip. As of press time, the commissioners had not yet started debate or taken action on an approval of the strip.

The drag racing strip has been a longtime project of the Fairbanks Racing Lions, a group of Interior drag racing and racing enthusiasts. The group’s president, Jamie Bodenstadt, told the commission the half-mile-long racing strip adjacent to the North Pole Speedway will expand the community’s racing offerings and make public roads safer.

The bulk of the testimony came from racing and motorsport enthusiasts, who felt that the strip provides a great attraction for racers throughout the state as well as an opportunity to keep local racers off Airport Way.

“I think this is a positive thing in the community,” Mike Laiti said. “You see a lot of people in the community and it gives people a chance to act like a maniac and drive fast in a controlled, safe environment. I think this is going to prevent injuries and possible deaths on public streets.”

And while the track will be able to handle major multiple-thousand-horsepower vehicles, Bodenstadt said it’ll likely be mostly filled with street vehicles.

“Ninety-nine percent of the cars that we’ll drive here will be the kind of cars you drove here tonight,” he said. “The other 1 percent those are the kind of cars that we’re covering in this noise study. There’s maybe 25 or 30 of them state-wide.”

For the most part neighbors of the proposed strip expressed concern about the drag strip, saying the existing speedway, where lower-power vehicles race throughout the summer, makes backyards unusable during the summer.

“My property abuts that whole race area,” Les Warnke said. “Let me tell you, it’s noisy. People in my area have knocked off using their back yards during racing season it’s so noisy.”

The Racing Lions had held a number of community meetings before the Tuesday night meeting and have already incorporated a number of changes to their proposal that are aimed at dampening the noise on the local community.

It would be surrounded by 12-foot-high noise-canceling berms, but it still is estimated to send out noise at about 65 decibels at a mile, but could affect homes even further out depending on atmospheric conditions.

The group will have normal hours of operation from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. The group also requested six “big event” weekends. When pressed on what weekends he was thinking, Bodenstadt said most of the big races will still be held down at the Palmer drag strip. North Pole would host its big drag races on Solstice and Golden Days weekends, he said.

The Racing Lions also agreed to regular monitoring of the sound output of the strip, with a limit of 106 decibels at the perimeter of the property, the rough equivalent of a power mower at 3 feet. The Racing Lions would have an exemption from those rules during event weekends.

Bodenstadt said construction of the strip will take place over 10 years, but said it likely would take three years before the first races take place.

Many neighbors were skeptical about the Racing Lions’ promises, but Warnke said that if they could meet them, he would probably be OK with the strip.

“If they maintain what they’re supposed to maintain, it would probably work out reasonably well, but I think the big factor is going to be the noise,” he said. “There’s a totally complete difference between the drag machines from what they run over there on the roundy round track.”

Contact staff writer Matt Buxton at 459-7544. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMpolitics.

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