Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Heartland Motorsports Park to close after completing 2023 schedule

After thirty-four years, Heartland Motorsports Park in Topeka, Kansas, will shut down upon completion of its 2023 racing schedule. The track’s owner Chris Payne has long quarreled with Shawnee County about property taxes, which the former claims has greatly exceeded what his Shelby Development LLC company already pays and is consequently unsustainable.

The matter has been taken to court at various times, only for it to rule in favour of the county each time. Payne also owns I-70 Motorsports Park, a dirt track in Missouri, where he also pays particularly high taxes though he has stated they are fair compared to Heartland’s. He purchased Heartland in 2016.

Amid ongoing litigation, Payne threatened to close the track if the matter remained unresolved before formally announcing on Monday that he will follow through with it.

“Heartland Motorsports Park will be closing its doors and ceasing operations at the end of October, after completing all its 2023 scheduled events,” reads a track statement. “The owner of the properly, Shelby Development LLC, can no longer operate under such an enormous and ever-increasing tax burden. As a result, Shelby Development LLC will be placing the property on the market for sale. Despite the taxes assessed on the property already exceeding what Shelby paid for the entire property, Shawnee County again knowingly increased taxes twice this year.

“Heartland would like to thank its staff, sponsors, spectators, racers, vendors, and all who participated in or visited heartland during one or more of the many events it held annually. Unfortunately, while Heartland and shelby are saddened and upset by the situation, and have done all they could to avoid closing, it is the communities of Topeka, Shawnee County, and the surrounding areas that will suffer the most, losing nationally-recognized events that not only benefit the communities by drawing in tourism and economic development, but also provide quality activities for locals to enjoy. The local community will lose out on these annual events, including the Country Stampede, as they move to different cities and, potentially, different states.”

Formerly known as Heartland Park Topeka, the track opened in 1989 and features multiple layouts including a 4.02-km road course, a drag racing strip, an autocross course, and even a concert venue. The NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series raced on the road course layout from its inception in 1995 through 1999, making Topeka the series’ very first road circuit; coincidentally, I-70 was also on the Truck calendar during this period. Legendary NASCAR team owner Rick Hendrick ran his final race as a driver at the 1995 edition.

NASCAR’s regional divisions have also competed at Heartland Park, as have the now-ARCA Menards Series, IMSA, and Trans-Am. The National Hot Rod Association long conducted the NHRA Heartland Nationals there, with the last taking place in August. The Country Stampede Music Festival has taken place at Heartland Park since 2019.

As of this article’s publication, the final event listed on the track’s event calendar is the St. John 27 Motorcycle Racing School on 29 October.