Tooele Transcript Bulletin – News in Tooele, Utah

May 12, 2015
Miller Motorsports Park in final race season

After years of fending off rumors that they were leaving, Larry H. Miller Group officials announced last Friday that they will not renew Miller Motorsports Park’s lease with Tooele County.

The Miller Group will cease operation of the racetrack at the end of the racing season on Oct. 31, 2015, according to a written statement released by the Miller Group on May 8.

“On behalf of my family, I would like to thank all of those who have supported the track over the years, both locally and worldwide, for their enthusiasm and use of the facility,” stated Gail Miller, owner of the Larry H. Miller Group of Companies, in a prepared statement.

Since Larry Miller passed away in 2009, the Miller family and Miller Group officials have resoundingly denied rumors that they were going to close the racetrack.

In the last five months the Miller Group denied twice that it had plans to leave Tooele County.

In December 2014, after Miller Family Real Estate offered 900 acres it owns east of MMP to the state as a potential site for a new state prison, Linda Luchetti, Miller Group executive vice president for communications, insisted that that prison property offer was not tied to rumors that the Miller family wanted to sell their property in Tooele County to help cover losses at MMP and then close the park.

The value of the 900 acres owned by Miller Family Real Estate on Sheep Lane does not come close to the investment the Miller’s have made in the motorsports park across the street, she said.

Then in March, after Greg Miller stepped down as CEO of the Larry H. Miller Group, Luchetti squelched rumors that the track was closing.

“As far as Tooele County residents and employees at the Miller Motorsports Park go, they should not notice any changes,” she said. “Miller Motorsports Park will remain open and it is not for sale.”

But on Friday, Luchetti said the Miller Groups’ plans changed.

Faced with making a decision about the land lease renewal, the Miller Group made the decision not to renew the lease, according to Luchetti.

“We made a significant investment in the facility over the years and tried a variety of business approaches,” she said. “We had some of the best talent in the motorsports industry working to make the park viable.”

It was no secret that MMP had been struggling financially for years.

“We have a business plan that should have us breaking even by 2011. To break even would be success,” Greg Miller told the Transcript Bulletin in May 2009.

In 2011 Miller Group officials said MMP was still not operating in the black.

The Miller Group’s total investment at MMP in the land, tracks, and buildings has been reported to be over $100 million. Construction began in April 2005 and the 511-acre facility opened a year later.

When the Miller Group walks away at the end of October, the land, the track, the buildings, and all other facilities become the property of Tooele County, according to the lease agreement.

However, the county has no interest in owning and operating a world-class racing facility, according to Tooele County Commissioner Shawn Milne.

Milne said he has already fielded calls from viable companies from across the country that want to take over MMP.

He is optimistic that a new group can be found to either lease and operate the motorsports park or buy the property with the intent of operating the park for the public — possibly before the Miller Group leaves in October.

MMP is an important part of Tooele County’s economy, according to the commissioner. The park’s rental payment contributes to the county’s budget, the park employs county residents in both full-time and seasonal positions, and the parks draws in tourists that stay in local hotels and eat in local restaurants.

The land MMP sits on belongs to the Grantsville Soil Conservation District. Tooele County has a 99-year lease on the land. The county, in turn, leases the land to MMP.

The contract between MMP and the county calls for an annual payment of $60,000, or 5 percent of the track’s gross revenue, whichever is greater. In 2013 MMP’s annual lease payment to the county was $337,166.

Chad Fullmer, owner of Tooele Denny’s Restaurant, is not too worried about the effect Friday’s announcement will have on his restaurant.

“I expect there will be an impact on a few weeks out of the year, but overall nothing too significant,” he said. “I am optimistic that a more qualified operator will realize the opportunity. In all, I think it will turn out to be good for the community and businesses.”

 

Miller Motorsports Park Timeline

 

2004 – Larry Miller tried to expand a racetrack he owned in Denver. Local property owners opposed the expansion so he looked elsewhere.

Property in Tooele County caught Miller’s eye when he came to Deseret Peak Complex with a grandson.

Miller began negotiations with Tooele County for property north of Deseret Peak.

In December 2004, he announced plans to build a racetrack in Tooele County.

2005 – Groundbreaking ceremony for MMP held April 26.

“This is the most exciting project I have undertaken,” said Larry Miller, during the groundbreaking ceremony.

Construction plans for MMP include a 0.9 mile paved go-kart circuit with 20 configurations available.

At a media event at MMP, Miller said he usually planned every move he made in the business world “but this track is just for fun. We’re going to drive ‘til we’re silly.”

2006 – MMP opened April 1 with a reported construction cost of $75 million.

Full course is a 23-turn, 4.5-mile counterclockwise road circuit run — the longest track in North America. Vehicles can reach speeds of 200 mph on the front stretch. Other configurations include a 14-turn, 3.08 mile Perimeter Course; 12-turn, 2.2 mile East Course; and 13-turn 2.2 mile West Course.

MMP recognized as “Motorsports Facility of the Year” at the Motorsport World Expo in Cologne, Germany.

“My father originally would have built the track in his backyard if there was enough room,” Greg Miller said three years later. “The idea was to have a playground where my father, his family and friends could drive and race his cars. He found this property in Tooele and the track idea took on its own life, and eventually became a $104 million investment.”

The world comes to MMP:

• 2006-2010 American Le Mans Series

• 2006-2010 Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series

• 2006-2008, 2010-2012, 2014-2015 Pirelli World Challenge

• 2006-2008, 2011-2013 AMA Superbike Championship

• 2007-2014 NASCAR K&N Pro Series West Utah Grand Prix

• 2008-2012 FIM Superbike World Championship

2008 – Greg Miller, eldest son of Larry Miller, became CEO of the Larry H. Miller Group.

2009 – Larry Miller passes away from complications of diabetes.

2011 – MMP refocuses on participatory events and action sports instead of major races while maintaining some spectator racing events.

“We have found that our audience throughout the Intermountain West wants hands-on experiences,” said John Larson, MMP general manager. “And they really like off-road events and dirt.”

Opportunities like Wide Open Wednesday, where people drive their own car on the track, taking jeeps on the rock crawling course, local race seasons for weekend warriors, the Lucas Oil Off Road and Dirt track, along with driving schools, corporate trainings, and go carts are examples of the participatory events that Larson is trying to use to build the track’s fan base.

MMP opens 194-foot high zip line. It is claimed to be the tallest structure in Tooele County.

2012 – Miller Motorsports Park builds a 6.7-mile off-road course on 704 acres of land east of Sheep Lane.

Three events planned for the course include the Wide Open Baja Challenge, off-road drive testing, and a Ford Raptor driving school.

The addition of the track is part of Miller Motorsports Park’s efforts to bring in more people by expanding participatory events.

2013 – MMP spends $1 million on a new world-class motocross track on the east infield.

The off-road track becomes one of the venues for the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship series.

2014 – Miller Family Real Estate Property east of MMP becomes a finalist location for the new state prison.

2015 – Greg Miller steps down as CEO of the Larry H. Miller Group. The Larry H. Miller Management Corporation, under the direction of its president, Clark Whitworth, assumed Miller’s responsibilities. Gail Miller retains ownership. Greg, Steve, and Bryan Miller will fill roles in “family governance,” according to Miller Group press release.

The Larry H. Miller Group of Companies announced it will not renew the land lease agreement with Tooele County for MMP.

 

Tim Gillie

Staff Writer at Tooele Transcript Bulletin
Tim covers education, Tooele City government, business, real estate, politics and the state Legislature. He became a journalist after a long career as an executive with the Boy Scouts of America. Tim is a native of Washington state and a graduate of Central Washington University.

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