Redevelopment Authority, drag strip promoter part ways
Bruce Justice (Mingo Messenger) May 05, 2023
The 2023 Twin Branch Drag racing schedule has been put on hold until a new promoter and operator can be contracted to conduct races at the mountaintop facility.
This latest development in the drag strip’s well-documented long and troubled history came about following a mutual agreement made between the current promoter/operator and the Mingo County Redevelopment Authority that will effectively terminate his lease contract.
During her report to the board of directors during the April 27 MCRA meeting, Executive Director Leasha Johnson said Pete Scalzo contacted her via a formal letter a week prior to the meeting requesting that the lease agreement be terminated.
Johnson said that, although she had informed each board member by email following her receiving Scalzo’s request, approval or disapproval of that request would have to be taken up and formally decided as an action item during the April 27 regular meeting.
Johnson said Scalzo, who had been a drag strip owner and operator in Florida when he was contracted by the MCRA in 2018 to further develop and operate the racing facility, cited an inability to continue in his current capacity as the facility’s promoter/operator as reason for the termination.
In that formal letter sent to the MCRA on April 21, Scalzo mentioned “unforeseen management issues” as part of the reason he had requested the termination.
He said these management issues, along with failing health, had made him unable to fulfill the completed list of contractual “mandated requirements” before he fell into default with the lease agreement by March 3 of this year.
In September 2022, Scalzo, along with his associate, Thomas Wilson, attended the MCRA’s regular meeting both to give an update on the drag strip’s readiness to begin holding IHRA-sanctioned (International Hot Rod Association) race events there, as well to make a formal request that the lease be transferred to Wilson.
At that time, Scalzo cited similar reasons for the lease transfer request.
However, the MCRA board put off deciding on that request until having been assured that all the remaining lease agreement terms had been fulfilled by Scalzo and that IHRA-sanctioned races were being held on a regular basis.
Although an initial test-and-tune soft opening for the drag strip was held later in October, as well as a handful of races having since followed, Wilson’ request for a lease transfer remained unapproved by the MCRA because of several original lease agreement terms still not having been met by Scalzo.
Despite more than five years of delays, Scalzo expressed his gratitude for having been given the opportunity to be the promoter/operator of the facility.
“It has been a long journey but finally with the help of the MCRA board, MCRA Executive Director Leasha Johnson, plus the cooperation of the West Virginia Department Highways, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection and other state agencies, the track was finally opened and now ready for someone, potentially more local, to bring the track to the next level,” Scalzo wrote.
Johnson said Scalzo’s notice of termination was forwarded to the MCRA’s legal counsel. After being assured Scalzo was not under additional monetary or other any related obligations to the MCRA, he approved the termination agreement.
“We additionally advised Pete that pursuant to the terms he would have seven days from the date of termination to remove all his personal property from the drag strip,” Johnson said at the April 27 meeting.
“Our attorney is satisfied that all the contractual obligations with Pete have been satisfied,” Johnson added, “and that we are now free to advertise the track for a new promoter and operator.”
Johnson said the MCRA’s attorney has approved an RFP (request for proposal) for a new promoter/operator, and that this next step for procuring one will begin immediately upon the board’s approval.
“The RFP is in the same format as the original advertisement and it contains the same expectations that were originally stated, including the track being operated as an IHRA-sanctioned track and the new operator’s willingness to extend water and power to the track from the existing infrastructure that was installed by the county commission several years ago,” Johnson said.
She said the RFP also requests documentation of the candidate’s financial health and solvency, a projected timeline and budget, as well as availability of funds that would be necessary to fulfill his/her projected activities and obligations at the facility.
“The scoring considerations of the RFP are clearly defined so everybody who submits a proposal will know in advance how the proposals will be scored,” she said.
Johnson said the RFP would run as a legal advertisement twice during a two-week period, most likely beginning next week. She said hard copies of the proposals would be due back to the MCRA office at 4:30 p.m., May 31.
“If we’re able to meet that timeline, depending upon the availability of space in the newspapers, then I anticipate that an agreement would be signed and we’ll have a new operator selected by the second week in June, with a lease agreement finalized by July 1,” she said.
“Although that will mean two months of lost racing,” she continued, “that’s still a pretty aggressive timeline when you consider what our statutory and procurement requirements are. But in the interest of getting the track reopened as soon as possible so that a new operator can have as much of this racing season left to earn a return on some of the investment that will have to be made, it needs to be aggressive.”
Johnson said the RFP would be advertised in both local and state newspapers, as well as a publication(s) connected to the IHRA. She said it would additionally be advertised on the MCRA’s website and Facebook page.