2019 will be a rebuilding year for Utah Motorsports Campus, according to Dixon Hunt, UMC vice-president of marketing and partnerships.
“Up to this point, we ran the facility for the county on a year-by-year agreement,” he said. “Now that we own it, we can make long term commitments. That will help us in scheduling events and recruiting sponsors.”
The end of the year closing time for the UMC sale has put the new owner — Mitime Utah, LLC — at a disadvantage in scheduling the 2019 racing season, according to Hunt.
“We didn’t know until October that we were going to get to buy UMC,” he said. “And then there were two months of negotiations. That made scheduling series for 2019 difficult.”
UMC isn’t ready to announce its 2019 schedule yet, but it can say that the Nitro World Games, the MotoAmerica Series, and Lantern Fest — now named Night Lights — will be back in 2019, according to John Gardner, UMC’s public relations manager.
During the three and half years since Tooele County’s first attempt to sell the former Miller Motorsports Park to Mitime, county officials have said one reason they rejected an offer for more cash was Mitime’s lower bid included investments in the facility that would reap future economic benefits more valuable than a short-term benefit of more cash in the bank.
The 2015 deal included promises and speculation of an initial investment of around $6 million to upgrade the facility, a hotel-like dormitory to house 60 to 80 people, a three-eighths-mile oval for training drivers, a manufacturing facility, tourists from China, and educational opportunities.
The previous plans may have changed, but Hunt remains adamant that under Mitime’s ownership, UMC will see significant investment and growth.
“We would not have laid out the huge investment to buy this facility if we did not have the intention to grow this place,” he said.
Mitime is currently working on an exploratory study of several possibilities for UMC, according to Hunt.
While Hunt didn’t mention any specific projects, his message was clear — whether it’s a drag strip and racing oval or a hotel, the key to future investments will be profitability.
“We have shareholders to answer to now,” Hunt said. “They are ready to make the investment necessary to grow business, but we have to show them that there will be profitability.”
Along with profitability, UMC has to consider things like infrastructure, permits, zoning and a variety of regulations, he said.
“Our biggest problem right now with bringing in big crowds is roads,” Hunt said. “I have to meet with emergency management people at the county and plan different routes to bring people in. We really need the Midvalley Highway.”
Part of the reason for changes from Mitime’s initial plans for UMC is the needs of Geely Holding Company, Mitime’s parent company, have changed.
Back in 2015, Geely had one racetrack under construction in China and four more on the drawing board. UMC was going to be used as a training ground for both racetrack operations and race car drivers.
Workers and race car drivers from China would come to UMC, stay in the hotel on the grounds, and learn their job. Geely, China’s largest private automobile manufacturer, would ship over parts to race cars that would be assembled here.
After training, the drivers and cars would be shipped back to China.
Geely has opened its first racetrack in China, and no longer needs a U.S.-based training facility, according to Hunt.
Geely itself has changed, becoming a global company with ownership of Volvo, Proton, Lotus, the London Taxi Company, Terrafugia, and the largest shareholder in Daimler. Geely also recently announced plans to work with China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation on supersonic train technology.
Geely’s growth has helped UMC, according to Hunt.
“It has really helped us when it comes to scheduling some of these big events out here to have the backing and influence of a global company,” he said.
In addition to changes in Geely, the racing industry itself is changing, according to Gardner.
“We’re starting to see events where the facilities are more entrant, or participant centered, with spectators from around the world watching a broadcast,” he said.
Under Mitime’s management, UMC has already branched out into hosting non-motorized events and renting meeting space.
“We’re probably Utah’s largest outdoor event venue,” Hunt said.
Attracting new events like Lantern Fest and the Nitro World Games, along with renting meeting facilities, has helped reduce UMC’s operating loss, according to Hunt.
Without putting a figure on the loss amount, Gardner, who has worked at UMC since it was opened by Larry Miller in 2006, said the operating loss is lower than it has ever been.
“That’s just it,” Hunt said. “Geely didn’t buy UMC to just let it sit as is and lose money. With three years experience running this place, we know it can make money, but it’s going to have to grow. This will be a rebuilding year. But watch, this place is going to grow.”