TOOELE — One of Larry H. Miller's dreams is coming to an end.
In an unexpected move, Miller Motorsports Park will cease operations on Oct. 31, the Larry H. Miller Group of Companies announced Friday.
“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," Larry H. Miller Group owner Gail Miller said in a statement released by the organization.
In its press release, the Miller Group announced it had decided not to renew its lease on the land in Tooele County and to close the track, as was first reported by the Deseret News.
Tooele County Commissioner Shawn Milne called the company's decision not to renew the lease "absolutely news to me," when contacted late Friday morning.
"How unfortunate," he said.
Milne described a meeting later Friday between commissioners and Miller Group representatives as "cordial and professional." He declined to speculate about why the Miller Group made the decision it did.
"We are either being given a completely new business unit or an opportunity to recruit a very unique business," Milne said.
"I think counties are not normally in the business of running a race track — a world-renowned and beautiful race track," the commissioner continued. "So we can keep to our core competencies and look for someone else to pick up the LEGO pieces and build something of their own, or we can try to invent the wheel."
Commissioners hope to attract another entity to take over operation of the facility, Milne said, and the Miller Group has agreed to take part in the process.
"It was part of our conversation this afternoon," the commissioner said. "They have assured us and we are faithful that there will be a smooth transition."
The Miller Motorsports Park will remain open throughout the racing season. The full schedule of summer racing events, driving schools, public karting and group activities will be held as planned, the organization announced. An all-day season-opening party is set for May 16.
Miller Motorsports Park opened in 2006 and was touted as being one of the finest racing facilities in the world. However, it was also a huge financial drain on the Larry H. Miller Group of Companies, losing millions of dollars since its start.
At the time of its opening, the 511-acre facility featured North America's longest road-racing track for motorcycles and all cars, except Formula 1 race cars. The park also had a 4.5-mile course divided into western and eastern tracks of about equal lengths, along with a 0.89-mile track for go karts.
Over the years, the Alan Wilson-designed track has hosted high-profile events, including the American Le Mans series, a NASCAR race (Grand National West Series), the FIM Superbike World Championship and the AMA Superbike Championship, among others.
While its decision may have seemed somewhat sudden, a Miller Group spokesman said it had been a long time in the making.
“We were facing a land lease renewal deadline and made the decision to transfer the land, track and buildings to Tooele County,” said Linda Luchetti, executive vice president of communications for the LHM Group. “We made a significant investment in the facility over the years and tried a variety of business approaches. We had some of the best talent in the motorsports industry working to make the park viable.”
Despite those efforts, she said the property was never able to reach profitability.
“This decision helps us to position ourselves for long-term success, which is in line with other recent changes in our management structure,” Luchetti added. “As a multi-faceted company, our focus continues to be on the core businesses where we excel.”
When it opened, Larry H. Miller said the track was “a realization of a dream.” But it was an expensive dream — $100 million to be exact, Miller said in his biography written by Doug Robinson. That expense continued long after it began operation, Miller said.
“To tell you the truth, the motor speedway has been an ugly stepchild for The Miller Group company,” Miller said. “It’s losing $2 million a year. It’s just too far ahead of its time. Auto racing has taken the country by storm in the last few years, but not Utah. It’s just difficult to get people out there for race events as spectators. The track has worldwide recognition, but few know about it in Utah.”
Former company CEO Greg Miller said of the racetrack, "It was bad timing. Sponsorships have been cut back and entertainment dollars are not being spent. But my father held it close to the vest. He wouldn’t involve the sports entertainment group (of The Miller Group). He did it personally."
In the end, those close to Larry Miller were philosophical about the track.
“Some people build swimming pools in their back yards or tennis courts,“ Greg Miller said. “He wanted a racetrack and his yard wasn’t big enough."
Robert Yardley is worried about how the closing of Miller Motorsports Park will impact his own small business. He launched Yardley Racing in 2014, building and selling high-performance go-karts for races at the Tooele track and elsewhere around the West.
"I'll have to sit down, make some plans and see how I can save my business," Yardley said. "Larry would be devastated."