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Fight over Airpark could force Texas Mile to race away

By jhornberg
Oct. 23, 2010 at 5:23 a.m.

Smoke flies as a motorcyclist revs his Hyabusa street bike to gain better traction on his tires before speeding down the Texas Mile on Saturday.

IF YOU GOTexas Mile runs through Sunday at the Goliad Airpark near Berclair.

Racing runs from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

GOLIAD - Tye Ray has not missed a Texas Mile yet.

The Goliad native has raced in the last three events, but has attended as a spectator since the event began.

"We've been coming here for the last year and a half running this car," he said.

As of Saturday afternoon, he had raced his bright red 2008 Mustang GT 500 with several enhancements.

Like several other cars, his was covered with blue masking tape, which covers crevices and makes the car more aerodynamic.

"It's a little bit here and there to get it as fast as we can," he said. "So far this weekend, we've gone 165.5 mph."

The crosswind, though, had been knocking miles off his speed.

"It's dropping the speeds from what I can tell and from talking to people," he said. "People are five to 10 mph lower on average for every vehicle. And every so often, when you catch a cross wind, it will cause a little bit of a fishtail."

The Texas Mile has been held at the Goliad County Industrial Airpark since October 2003, and started out as a small event for a few racers.

Now, the biannual event brings in almost 250 drivers and thousands of spectators for the three-day event. This fall, it added on-site fueling options and more food vendors.

The line of RVs and trailers stretches up and down the mile-and-a-half long track, and then some around the course.

But like the cars that zip down the mile stretch of runway at the airport near Berclair, the race could zip away from its current location because of wrangling over who will own the sparsely used location: Goliad County or the U.S. Navy.

"We've been told here that they are in talks with whoever gets full custody of the airport," Ray said of the organizers.

Event organizer Shannon Matus is unconcerned. She said the Navy wants to be a good steward to the area, and part of that would ensure that the racing event stays put.

"From what I understand, ... the Navy is interested in being a good neighbor," she said. "The hope and the desire is that the Navy, in wanting to be a good neighbor, would want to partner and allow this to continue twice a year."

Matus and her husband Jay founded the event seven years ago. The Texas Mile, she said, has become synonymous with Goliad.

"It has international recognition, and definitely domestic recognition," she said. "It's very important to the community, it brings a lot of business in. It's also gained so much notoriety because there's only a few places in the world that this is done at.

"It's become a part of the heritage and what goes on here."

After several attempts to purchase the airpark, the U.S. Navy announced in early October that it would seize it through eminent domain and condemn it after the county commissioners rejected several offers.

It plans to use it for flight training beginning in 2012. County representatives have said they would fight the decision in court.

"From what I understand and from what I got from the local people in the area, they're really concerned about it happening," said Molly Meier, a representative for the Texas Mile. "We like to think we're good stewards. From my own personal experience from stopping into some of the stores and talking to people, they're like, 'We really don't want that to happen.'"

The Texas Mile also gets by with a number of volunteers, who help direct traffic and keep the event going in an orderly fashion.

They include members of the Christian Motorcyclists Association, who have been volunteering at the Texas Mile for three years.

One member, Pablo Lonngi of Laredo, said that if the Navy needs the land then the event organizers and participants should go along.

That being said, he wondered if the Mile wasn't outgrowing its current home.

"If they Navy really needs it, then we have to yield," Lonngi said. "It's going to take a bit of doing to move it somewhere else, but we're pretty much overgrowing it.

"It's almost perfect timing when it's getting too big to have it around here, we can move it to an established venue with all the facilities."

Matus said the Texas Mile is unlikely to move to another location, and that the Goliad Airpark is still more than able to support the event.

She said the airpark still meets the needs of the Texas Mile.

"The event takes place along the mile, so there's plenty of space," she said. "We just continue to adjust to that."

Set up begins the day before, Matus said, with employees and volunteers showing up at Thursday morning before the event starts to set up tents and put facilities in place. Matus said the airport when the event staff and volunteers arrive is "like a blank slate."

Gates are opened to trailers and visitors at 3 p.m. that day to allow people to set up and find space.

Ray said he would follow the Texas Mile even if it moved somewhere else.

"We'll definitely find somewhere to run," he said. "I'll follow the Texas Mile wherever it goes."

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