The legendary Wild Horse circuit will close next February SanTan Sun News

By Paul Maryniak
Chief Editor

After four decades of racing thrills, Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park will be permanently closed next year as the Gila River Indian Community Development Branch takes a giant leap towards creating an entertainment complex, retail and office space of 3,300 acres.

The Wild Horse Pass Development Authority announced March 25 that the former Firebird International Raceway will hold its final National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) race next February. at the 440-acre complex that includes a drag strip, road course, and 2.4-mile oval powerboat racing lake.

“For nearly 40 years, the NHRA, in conjunction with the Wild Horse Pass Development Authority, has wowed Arizona spectators and fans on Arizona’s fastest quarter mile,” its brief announcement read. on social networks. “The Wild Horse Pass Development Authority is delighted to celebrate the last race at this legendary racecourse, February 2023.”

The Authority’s Acting Chief Executive Officer, Elizabeth Antone, added, “Arizona has been an incredible supporter of the NHRA and Wild Horse Pass Motorsport Park for the past four decades and we are so grateful for this tremendous support. fans. We know this final race will be a celebration that NHRA fans are famous for.

Neither tribal officials nor authorities returned phone calls and emails seeking further comment.

Sunbelt Holdings, a Scottsdale development company that was tasked by the GRIC early last year to spearhead the creation of a mega-resort that would include additional hotels, wellness and event centers, an outdoor amphitheater for concerts, sports facilities, outdoor recreation and parks, restaurants, retail and an office park.

When the tribe and Sunbelt announced the development plan in January 2021, Sunbelt Chairman John Graham said, “What we are doing is long-term in nature,” he said. “Our first plan is kind of a 10-year plan, but I think between this land and other tribal lands around it, it’s a 30-year build.”

The Wild Horse Pass Authority has promoted this development on its website as a Federal Opportunity Zone, where businesses can get significant tax breaks for developing new properties and upgrading existing ones in the zones. designated as economically in difficulty.

“Where Interstate 10 meets the 202 Loop, opportunity meets its destination,” the authority states, noting that “the planned 3,300-acre commercial development (east) provides sites for: entertainment, retail, offices and themed attractions. Available sites range in size to accommodate from 1,000 to 1,000,000 square feet property tax free.

Phoenix Rising, the state’s largest professional soccer team, opened a new 6,200-seat stadium at the site last year. The tribe had also made a pitch to welcome the 2021 Arizona State Fair as the pandemic threatened its usual Phoenix site, but fair officials decided the site lacked sufficient infrastructure to accommodate hundreds of thousands of visitors and the time was too short to solve the major problems there.

As the race track moves away, an adjacent school that teaches racing and other sophisticated driving techniques does not move.

“The recent announcement regarding the future of the drag racing track at Wildhorse Pass Motorsports Park will not impact our operations or course offerings,” said Radford Racing School Managing Director Mike Kessler. .

“Our legendary 1.6-mile circuit is the heart and soul of our school, and we will continue to be a world-class driver training center and motorsport destination for performance enthusiasts everywhere.” , added Kessler.

Radford Racing School takes its name from Radford Motors, a legendary British car manufacturer with brands like Rolls Royce and Bentley. The four owners of the school bought the property after the 50-year-old Bondurant School of High Performance Driving went bust several years ago in a multi-million dollar bankruptcy case.

Following the Wild Horse Pass Development Authority’s announcement, racing fan website dragzine.com said Motorsports Park’s closure was related to an ongoing redesign of the Wild Horse Pass exit on I-10 .

“Wild Horse Pass officials shared rather unceremoniously via its social media that a new overpass/caveway for the I-10 Extension will utilize the space currently occupied by the trail, with construction likely to begin in 2023,” said declared dragzine.

“Note that this road viaduct was not part of the Wild Horse Pass Development Authority plans presented to the public last January (2021), so it is clearly a recent development, and one that has significantly shortened the time Arizonans thought they had. left to enjoy the facility.”

The only problem is that there are no existing plans to overhaul this interchange in the near future, according to the Maricopa Association of Governments, a lead agency for transportation development in the county.

That rebuilding at this stage has not yet been on the drawing board, according to John Bullen, MAG’s transport economics and finance program manager.

“It’s still in the planning stage, if you will,” Bullen said. “Honestly, we have worked a lot with the Gila River Indian Community over the past few years. And, there have been discussions – I would say there has been interest in a new type (of exchange) in this neighborhood.

Bullen said MAG also discussed improvements to State Route 347 along the southeast edge of the proposed mega-development site.

“Right now, we’re sort of waiting for information from them: what is their concept, what are these plans, what is this development,” he said. “There’s this recognition and commitment that, ‘hey, we’re going to improve access to the Wild Horse Pass area, but we don’t know what that looks like.'”

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