Charlie Fulton talks about wanting to open the Speedway at the Muskogee Fairgrounds this year.

Brothers Charlie and Tommy Fulton say they’d like to see cars racing at the Thunderbird Speedway again and want to start repairing the speedway’s historic grandstand.

However, Muskogee city officials say the grandstand could be beyond repair and put a stop-work order on any speedway projects. City building inspector Jack Bethany said he issued the order Jan. 3 because the facility is condemned. Once known as Muskogee Speedway, the facility closed in April 2003 after Clay McAlpine, the city engineer at the time, deemed it unsafe.

Almost one year ago, the Fultons bought the 32.09-acre racetrack from the city after bidding $87,500.55 on it. Charlie Fulton said then that he hoped to start races there by last fall. Now, it might not be until at least next fall before the speedway could open again.

“If they leave us alone, we can open it this year,” Tommy Fulton said, referring to the city’s stop-work order.

In his 2003 report, McAlpine said damage to the speedway is so extensive, it cannot be rehabilitated.

“It would be cheaper to tear it down and start over,” McAlpine said in a 2003 news story.

Charlie Fulton said he could repair the grandstand for a lot less than he would spend tearing it down. He said renovations could cost about $100,000 while tearing down and rebuilding could cost “half a million.”

“I had someone estimate $325,000 just to tear it down,” he said.

Fulton said he disagreed that the steel and reinforced concrete structure is unsafe. He said a structural engineer examined the building and said the structure needs a ceiling to keep concrete from chipping and falling on people.

He said the grandstand is sturdy enough to withstand a tornado.

Current City Engineer Steve Almon said the grandstand is not safe.

“It has beams of exposed steel and the steel reinforcement is rusting,” he said. “There are numerous deficiencies to make it unsafe.”

He said the previous city engineer had the facility condemned around 2003. He said the city is not ordering that the facility be torn down.

“But they’d have to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to fix it,” Almond said.

He said he hasn’t heard anything about what the Fultons plan to do. Bethany said the stop work order is in effect until the Fultons meet with the city engineer.

Car racing enthusiast and former Muskogee Fairgrounds Trust Authority member Ross Staggs traces the grandstand to 1908, when it was for horse racing. He said he knows of a picture dating from 1908 showing the great harness-racing horse Dan Patch at the track. He said cars started racing in the dirt track in the early 1960s.

Some sources, however, date the grandstand to the 1930s. NASCAR legends A.J. Foyt and Richard Mears are said to have raced on the track.

Charlie Fulton said he would like to have a $50,000 race each spring and another $50,000 each fall.

Reach Cathy Spaulding at 918-684-2928 or Click Here to Send Email

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