In the April 24 NASCAR race at Talledega Superspeedway, a spinout in the final laps allowed Jeff Gordon to beat crowd favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr. while the caution flag waved. Three weeks later, fans are still bitterly arguing over the race ending with a whimper instead of bang.
Another Gordon also cruised to a recent racing victory locally, and the outcome is nearly as controversial.
Gordon Park Speedway, once thought to have crashed for good, has survived its own obituary. With caution flags still waving from some nearby residents, the Grove-town track returned to racing Satur-day night, the day after track owner Bill "Catfish" Reese got the green flag from county code enforcement officials who conducted a point-by-point inspection of the track.
It wasn't on the racetrack, however, but instead in the courtroom that Reese and Gordon Park got their biggest win. Three weeks ago, Superior Court Judge William M. Fleming threw out Columbia County's request for a permanent injunction against the track for violating noise restrictions.
In a stunning victory for the track's operators, Fleming ruled the county's measurement of noise from the track failed to subtract ambient sound. In other words, the track was being blamed not only for the sound of race cars, but for the noise of everything from lawn-mowers to locomotives.
It certainly didn't help the county's case that a digital sound meter, like the one the county used to make its case against the track, recorded sound levels in excess of the allowable 60 decibels -- from conversations inside the courtroom.
The deal four years ago to allow Gordon Park to continue operating is clearly flawed, worked out with a former owner who was willing to accept virtually any restrictions from the county in return for rezoning that would allow him to upgrade the facility.
Now that the court has tossed what is perhaps the most significant restriction out the window, Colum-bia County should work with Reese to rewrite the rules in such a way that the track can continue to operate in as much harmony as possible with the track's residential and institutional neighbors.
Gordon Park would never be built in its current location today. It clearly is out of place in the middle of one of the county's fastest-growing residential areas, and is far better suited to more wide-open rural spaces.
Such empty spaces surrounded the track, however, when it was built nearly 40 years ago. Growth has encroached on the track, and with Reese's court victory and any success bringing in fans, Gordon Park will likely be around for a while. The best county officials can do is try to strike a balance between race fans and residents.
Just as with Jeff Gordon's Talledega victory, some folks will never be happy with the outcome. But at least there is room for fewer arguments if everyone runs on the same rules.
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