Hawkins committee eyes racing curfew at drag strip

Jeff Bobo • Jun 14, 2013 at 7:58 AM

ROGERSVILLE — It’s been nearly 10 months since the Hawkins County Commission gave itself the power to regulate businesses, and now neighbors of a drag strip are asking the commission to use those powers.

When it meets in regular session June 24, the Hawkins County Commission will consider approval of a resolution appointing a new County Powers Committee.

The committee will have the task of regulating business for the purpose of “promoting the general welfare, health, morals, comfort, safety and convenience” by “prescribing limits which businesses practices may be conducted.”

Commissioner Darrell Gilliam, who represents District 6, where the Cherokee Raceway Park drag strip is located, is one of seven county commissioners proposed for the new committee.

Gilliam told the Times-News on Wednesday the first issue that the County Powers Committee will address is the operating hours for Cherokee Raceway Park, which is located in the Lakeview community west of Rogersville.

“About six months ago, we got a bunch of complaints from the people who live around the drag strip, and the biggest part of them want it shut down completely,” Gilliam said. “I worked out a compromise with the man who was running the track at the time. Those (neighbor) people only asked that they shut the drag strip down at midnight on Saturday night, and for the most part everybody agreed to it.”

Apparently this Saturday night the races ran late.

Gilliam said he began receiving complaints from area residents around 1:30 a.m. Sunday morning that cars were still racing.

As a result of those complaints, Gilliam said his first official act as a member of the County Powers Committee will be to propose limitations on the operating hours for the drag strip.

Generally, Cherokee Raceway Park has test and tune on Friday nights and competition on Saturday night.

Gilliam said he wants to prohibit racing at the drag strip after 11:59 p.m. and prohibit them from starting back up until after noon.

“This probably won’t take care of the situation 100 percent, but the way those (neighboring residents) are talking, they’re wanting it closed, and I’m hoping we can prevent a lot of lawsuits if we put this curfew on the books,” Gilliam said. “The biggest part of the racecar drivers I’ve talked to this week are happy with that. They’re not happy with running at 1:30 in the morning.”

Attempts to contact Cherokee Raceway Park operators were unsuccessful.

Gilliam said the drag strip affects the quality of life for a lot of people in the area. He lives two miles from the strip, and he said when they’re racing “it sounds like they’re coming through my yard.”

On the other hand, Gilliam said he respects racers and enjoys drag racing and doesn’t want to impede their right to compete. He said there’s no reason why the track can’t start a little earlier on Saturdays to ensure the show doesn’t run past midnight.

Gilliam added, “There’s some real good people down there, and they realize they bought them houses and the drag strip was there. But they still deserve to rest in peace Saturday night and Sunday morning.

The county powers resolution, which was approved 15-6 by the commission last August, was originally proposed because commissioners wanted to place controls on seasonal fireworks venders.

Opponents of the county powers resolution argued that it could eventually open the door to over-regulation or unnecessary regulation that stifles business growth.

County Mayor Melville Bailey said Wednesday that although the county powers resolution was approved in August 2012, there is no mechanism for it to be enacted at this time.

“Before we can put this county powers act into effect, we’re going to have to have this committee, and I guess this complaint about the drag strip made us realize we had to form a committee,” Bailey said. “Once the committee is put together, the committee will establish some form of review procedures to hear complaints.”

Other commissioners proposed for the County Powers Committee include Syble Vaughan-Trent, Jeff Barrett, Hubert Neal, Linda Kimbro, Glenda Davis and Lynn Short.

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