ERX Motor Park faces local challenges, questions about future

ERX Motor Park in Elk River, Minnesota, is a popular spot in the region for snowmobile and off-road racing, the latter of which includes annual stops by Championship Off-Road and Nitro Rallycross. However, complaints have hampered hopes of expanding the facility and potentially placed its existence on the line. The Elk River City Council held a meeting on Monday to discuss whether to grant changes to the track’s conditional use permit (CUP), though debate has delayed a decision until the COR race weekend on 15/16 July.

Much of the resistance concerns noise or upgraded facilities encroaching on private property, both of which are not uncommon reasons for race tracks in populated residential areas failing to see much further development and/or the arrival of larger racing championships, a concept that is commonly dubbed NIMBYism (“Not In My Back Yard”). Perhaps the most notable example in recent American motorsport comes at the historic Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway, where NASCAR‘s efforts to revitalise it for potential national series competition are hamstrung by residential opposition.

Although generally liked by the community and regarded as a boon to the local economy, ERX does not possess the benefit of extensive history like Nashville, having opened in 2008. The track began life as a snocross circuit before expanding to host short course off-road events. COR and Nitro RX held races at ERX during their inaugural seasons (track co-owner Andrew Carlson competed in both), and the latter is listed on ERX’s website as returning for the 2022/23 season on 1/2 October. Non-racing events include Day of the Dozer, which teaches families about construction safety, and concerts.

Prior to Monday, a petition circulated with calls to shut down the track. The meeting’s ERX discussion lasted approximately three hours and focused on whether a conditional use permit should be approved. As it is legally regarded as “Extreme Commercial Recreation”, a CUP is required to operate.

Track officials hoped to implement an amendment to the existing CUP which would allow for ERX to be expanded. Such renovations included a slight course modification in the northeastern area, and the construciton of new facilities like semi-permanent viewing decks, storage sheds, and a two-floor building housing announcers and concessions. A larger copy sign to complement two smaller ones was also included in the track’s proposal. If the CUP is granted, ERX needs a platted exemption in order to legally attain land for the expansion.

Credit: ERX Motor Park

Besides growing the track, ERX hopes to extend the hours of operation on Fridays and Saturdays, when most race days typically occur, from 7 AM to 12 AM; it currently ends an hour sooner for those days. Exemptions are granted for five three-day stretches that are categorised as “special events” like race weekends, and such allow the track to remain open through midnight.

Additional points of contention surrounded ERX intending to move the access road by 2024 and the fate of nearby trails. The former is compounded with the track being situated alongside Highway 169, which led to questions about traffic.

“The ownership and leadership team at ERX Motor Park realizes that there is a possibility of impacting our neighbors of the facility,” reads ERX’s CUP narrative. “To combat this, in the past we have stopped by our neighbors that are the closest to the event site, explained to them what was going on, offered them tickets, and dinner on us. We will continue to go above and beyond to make sure that our neighbors know what events we have coming to the facility. When it comes down to having events that may impact with noise, concerts, races, etc. we will assess the direction of the noise of such events. For concerts for example, we would position the stage so that the sound would have to travel over natural terrain (a hill) and through the woods before reaching the neighbors.”

The two sides delivered their opinions when the floor was opened to the public. Demands for noise reduction led to suggesting a study conducted by a third party, which had the endorsement of city councilman Matthew Westgaard, while Mayor John Dietz advocated for the formation of a citizen-led group that would communicate with ERX ahead of races. Despite being split on whether to approve the amended CUP, the council unanimously agreed to a sixty-day moratorium to give the track time to organise the study before making a verdict. The renewed deadline is just days after the COR weekend.

Championship Off-Road shared the news on social media ahead of the meeting, prompting many within and outside the racing world to send emails to the city government to support the track. Sara Fabian of the Children’s Minnesota Foundation, which receives donations from Day of the Dozers and maintains a close relationship with ERX, wrote its “benefit to the community is far more wide reaching” than money, and that “[t]he sense of community at this event is unmatched and is only made possible by ERX.”

“I’ve traveled to Elk River a handful of times and everytime i went I enjoyed it more than the last,” reads an email from COR Pro Lite driver Jacob Rosales. “My family even comes to ERX from Miami. They come because not only is it a Beautiful Race Facility but also a place for people from all over to come together and forget about what’s happening all the time and just enjoy good times with good people. I also would like to add the economics for ERX that the racers bring, we spend our money there, (hotels,food,gas,supplies, etc) money from all over is spent there with the ELK locals, and I enjoy even spending there because I’ve met some amazing people from there. It would be a shame for me and my family to never return to a place where we all hold great memories. I would also miss the people that I have met and get to see every year. Even if we take the emotions, noise complaints, etc, out of this or whatever may be. i believe the economic benefit that ERX provides would be a shame to get rid of as its a extra holiday for the locals to make some out of state money and go back into the town’s ecosystem”.

Fellow Pro Lite racer Matt Wood opined, “While I understand there are always complications that come with having a large facility like this in your community, the benefits are much greater. As a race team, we are spending our money at many local hotels, restaurants, grocery stores, gas stations, etc. This Motor Park attracts many racers, spectators, and athletes of many different sports, therefore boosting local revenue in various ways. Throughout the various seasons, ERX is always attracting positive growth to the city of Elk River. The loss of this facility and its events would cause a large disruption to the growth of this city, it’s local business and it’s growing popularity with the public.

“I ask you to please reconsider the issue being presented today. ERX is a safe, positive place for families and friends to gather and create memories. This track and those that run it have assisted in making my race program what it is today. Please give others the same opportunities I have had to experience such a positive environment.”

The agenda, minutes, and emails are publicly available at the City Council’s website.

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