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HomeNewsArchivesSenator Frustrated by Lack of Progress on St. Thomas Drag Strip

Senator Frustrated by Lack of Progress on St. Thomas Drag Strip

St. Thomas drag racing aficionados have been waiting years for a place to practice their preferred sport, and Monday Sen. Alvin L. Williams told them their wait might not be too much longer.

Williams, chair of the Senate Committee on Human Services, Recreation and Sports, held a hearing Monday night on his bill, Senate Bill No. 29-1080, which would authorize the governor to negotiate for the purchase or exchange of real property on St. Thomas for a car racing track and for other related buildings and improvements.

Gabriel Derrick, deputy commissioner of the Department of Property and Procurement, testified that the department has so far been unable to find an appropriate piece of property for the project. According to Gabriel, a track and related facilities would require a minimum of two relatively flat acres. The space would include a quarter-mile track, he said, plus garage and storage areas, a small concessions stand, bleachers for spectators, and space to buffer some of the noise associated with drag racing.

Derrick said the department so far has been unable to find such a property that the owners were willing to discuss selling.

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"We are at a complete loss for any property that would meet the requirements," he said. "We cannot foresee any fruitful negotiations for property."

That was not what Williams wanted to hear. He pointed out that the budget for the current fiscal year includes $15,000 for surveying appropriate sites for a drag racing track, and wondered why the department was not specifically endorsing or opposing the bill.

"I’m tired of hearing the same thing over and over," he said. "It’s time to move forward."

Sen. Patrick Simeon Sprauve joined Williams in criticizing the time the search has taken.

"This has been going on for the past five years or more," he said. "People come to me talking about a car racing track, and I told them money has been set aside to look for the property."

Derrick said the department endorses the bill’s purpose, but told Williams it’s important to be realistic about the task’s difficulty. Many of the larger landowners have their own development plans, he added, and a drag strip doesn’t necessarily fit into them.

Milton Jackson, chairman of the V.I. Auto Racing Commission, said there’s some land in the Bovoni area that would work. Derrick said he was aware of it, but that he would look it over again with Jackson.

Williams pointed to a bill from 2001, in which property in Estate Charlotte Amalie was supposed to be transferred to the government, and asked if that land would work.

Derrick said he would check.

Drag racing is a national and international sport, Jackson said, and many Virgin Islanders enjoy it. But on St. Thomas, they have no place to practice it except the streets, which is dangerous for drivers and pedestrians. A drag strip would create another outlet for entertainment for young and old alike, he said, and could conceivably provide an alternative to gangs, not to mention teach mechanical skills that could lead to employment, Jackson said.

Robert Massey, a St. Thomas resident who has been involved in drag racing for most of his life, said Derrick was being conservative in his estimate of the size of the parcel needed. Five acres would be more appropriate he said. And the track needs to be designed by people who specialize in that. You can’t just lay a strip of asphalt and call it a track, he said.

But given that, he still thinks a drag strip on St. Thomas would be a good investment, bringing in fans, creating jobs and revenues for the territory. He could even envision it becoming a nationally recognized site for bigger races.

Massey said he has attended drag races in 42 countries around the world and all over the 50 states.

"We’re the only spot under the American flag that doesn’t have a drag race track," he said.

Sen. Alicia "Chucky" Hansen took exception to Derrick’s suggestion that the facility would need a "small" concession stand. She said if a track was going to be built, they should think big.

"If you do something, do it big and right," she said, suggesting a hall big enough for other uses as well. "People could hire it for dances, or a conference."

Because the committee lacked a quorum, no vote was taken on Williams’ bill. He said it would have to wait until the next committee meeting, which would probably be held on St. Croix. In the meantime, he said, Property and Procurement has been given its marching orders.

At the next meeting he expects Derrick to report on how many properties have actually been studied and surveyed, and how many might be appropriate.

"I’m expecting by some time next year to be moving forward," Williams said.

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St. Thomas drag racing aficionados have been waiting years for a place to practice their preferred sport, and Monday Sen. Alvin L. Williams told them their wait might not be too much longer.

Williams, chair of the Senate Committee on Human Services, Recreation and Sports, held a hearing Monday night on his bill, Senate Bill No. 29-1080, which would authorize the governor to negotiate for the purchase or exchange of real property on St. Thomas for a car racing track and for other related buildings and improvements.

Gabriel Derrick, deputy commissioner of the Department of Property and Procurement, testified that the department has so far been unable to find an appropriate piece of property for the project. According to Gabriel, a track and related facilities would require a minimum of two relatively flat acres. The space would include a quarter-mile track, he said, plus garage and storage areas, a small concessions stand, bleachers for spectators, and space to buffer some of the noise associated with drag racing.

Derrick said the department so far has been unable to find such a property that the owners were willing to discuss selling.

"We are at a complete loss for any property that would meet the requirements," he said. "We cannot foresee any fruitful negotiations for property."

That was not what Williams wanted to hear. He pointed out that the budget for the current fiscal year includes $15,000 for surveying appropriate sites for a drag racing track, and wondered why the department was not specifically endorsing or opposing the bill.

"I'm tired of hearing the same thing over and over," he said. "It's time to move forward."

Sen. Patrick Simeon Sprauve joined Williams in criticizing the time the search has taken.

"This has been going on for the past five years or more," he said. "People come to me talking about a car racing track, and I told them money has been set aside to look for the property."

Derrick said the department endorses the bill's purpose, but told Williams it's important to be realistic about the task's difficulty. Many of the larger landowners have their own development plans, he added, and a drag strip doesn't necessarily fit into them.

Milton Jackson, chairman of the V.I. Auto Racing Commission, said there's some land in the Bovoni area that would work. Derrick said he was aware of it, but that he would look it over again with Jackson.

Williams pointed to a bill from 2001, in which property in Estate Charlotte Amalie was supposed to be transferred to the government, and asked if that land would work.

Derrick said he would check.

Drag racing is a national and international sport, Jackson said, and many Virgin Islanders enjoy it. But on St. Thomas, they have no place to practice it except the streets, which is dangerous for drivers and pedestrians. A drag strip would create another outlet for entertainment for young and old alike, he said, and could conceivably provide an alternative to gangs, not to mention teach mechanical skills that could lead to employment, Jackson said.

Robert Massey, a St. Thomas resident who has been involved in drag racing for most of his life, said Derrick was being conservative in his estimate of the size of the parcel needed. Five acres would be more appropriate he said. And the track needs to be designed by people who specialize in that. You can't just lay a strip of asphalt and call it a track, he said.

But given that, he still thinks a drag strip on St. Thomas would be a good investment, bringing in fans, creating jobs and revenues for the territory. He could even envision it becoming a nationally recognized site for bigger races.

Massey said he has attended drag races in 42 countries around the world and all over the 50 states.

"We're the only spot under the American flag that doesn't have a drag race track," he said.

Sen. Alicia "Chucky" Hansen took exception to Derrick's suggestion that the facility would need a "small" concession stand. She said if a track was going to be built, they should think big.

"If you do something, do it big and right," she said, suggesting a hall big enough for other uses as well. "People could hire it for dances, or a conference."

Because the committee lacked a quorum, no vote was taken on Williams' bill. He said it would have to wait until the next committee meeting, which would probably be held on St. Croix. In the meantime, he said, Property and Procurement has been given its marching orders.

At the next meeting he expects Derrick to report on how many properties have actually been studied and surveyed, and how many might be appropriate.

"I'm expecting by some time next year to be moving forward," Williams said.