County nips speedway seats
By BRIDGET HALL GRUMET, Times Staff Writer
INVERNESS -- They were supposed to be the best seats in the house, but the new skyboxes at the Citrus County Speedway sat empty at Saturday's season-opening Sunbelt 125 for one significant reason: Speedway workers had been building them without a county permit.
County officials halted the work on the 105-foot-long row of skyboxes March 15, after receiving an anonymous complaint about the unpermitted project, code enforcement officer Jerry Schaaf said.
Now the boxes must idle half-built until an engineer submits designs and receives an after-the-fact building permit, Schaaf said.
"I'm not aware of any problem with it except they don't have a permit," Schaaf said.
And that was a simple misunderstanding, said John Barnes, the consultant helping speedway promoter Billy Hooker resolve the permit faux pas.
"In (Hooker's) mind, he didn't think anything about it," Barnes said. "He just went up and started improving them."
The first row of skyboxes, designed to seat about 97 sponsors and special guests atop the metal bleachers, is part of the $100,000 in recent improvements to the speedway.
Hooker has widened the back straight to allow racers to drive faster and pass easier. He also paved the pits and raised the purses, all in an attempt to make the Citrus County Speedway the premier short track in the state.
The plans called for a total of 250 skybox seats around the race track, designed to draw new spectators who want to stay out of the dust near the pits. The idea was a hit: The skybox seats sold out before construction even began last month, Hooker told the Times.
Racing fans will have to wait a month or so before they can use those seats, however. Before the speedway can get a building permit, engineer Ed McKean must submit design drawings and information about the recycled plastic material used in the support beams and skybox floors.
Barnes said the rugged plastic has been used elsewhere as railroad ties.
"It looks real good," Barnes said. "It doesn't rot. It doesn't do anything. It just sits there year after year."
Because construction started before the speedway had a permit, Hooker will have to pay twice the normal permit fee. The fee is based on the scope and cost of the construction project, and Barnes said that figure was not yet available.
Eager to get the green light, the speedway has worked with the county to resolve the permit problem, Barnes said.
"It's going to be real nice," Barnes said, "once it's permitted."
-- Bridget Hall Grumet can be reached at 860-7303 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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