City Council Allows Racetrack To Run Till Midnight

City Council Allows Racetrack To Run Till Midnight


The Salem City Council at its regular meeting Monday night agreed to allow racing at Salem’s dirt track to continue past the 11p curfew for an extra hour on Sept. 9. 

Steve Leonard spoke to the council and asked the council to consider lifting the curfew because of the popularity of the track. 

The stands at Thunder Valley Raceway were filled last Saturday night for dirt track racing.

“This is our first year with the track back open. We had a race during the fair, then again on July. Starting at 7p, the heat was over 100 in the stands and many people didn’t come up until after 8:30p,” said Leonard. 

The number of cars has continued to increase over the past two races and Leonard and his wife, Misty, were scrambling this past week when the stands were filled and 68 cars showed up to race.

“This is a great problem to have. Our goal is to have 100 cars,” said Misty Leonard. “We are trying hard to run four classes and get done by 11p.”

City Attorney Ryan Bower said a permit to allow the track to operate for a special event could be issued on a case by case basis. 

The council voted unanimously to issue a permit for the next race on Sept. 9, which would allow Thunder Valley Raceway to operate until midnight. 

Leonard said he was looking at adding a race in late October and next year hoping to run races every other Saturday. 

“We are not trying to compete with other tracks in the area. Years ago they raced here on Friday nights. But it has worked out better to do these on Saturday nights. If we could work our schedule around other tracks, maybe we could draw fans in to a racing weekend here in Salem. We have the fans support of this.”

Thunder Valley Race (in many forms) has been part of the community since 1916. 

The Leonards took over management of the track this year and have made major changes. Much of that was erased in May during the flood and caused much more time and money to be invested into the track to get it ready for the racing season which began during the Washington County Fair. 

“If there is a problem with a certain class of car, we can make some adjustments to the rules and take care of that,” Leonard said. “We invite you all to come out to a race and see for yourselves what we’ve got here.” 


Salem Parks and Recreation Director Denise Newkirk presented each council member with a packet of information for the youth sports programs, indicating that the programs have had another successful year, including the current youth football programs which drafted teams this week. 

Newkirk will be retiring at the end of the year and the city is exploring options to keep the programs going with minimal cost. 

Salem Mayor Troy Merry said they were looking at options for the programs, including volunteer staff, moving the responsibility to another department or utilizing management from the Washington County Family YMCA. 

“The only cut we’re planning on making is to take the salary and not replace someone in that position,” said Merry. ”

Newkirk said the Meyer’s Memorial Pool had over 60 pool parties scheduled this summer and had a full round of swimming lessons. The youth softball and baseball programs are wildly successful along with the youth football programs.

“These programs are excellent recreation for our youth but it’s also a feeder program for the schools,” Newkirk said. “I have two daughters who were in softball, went on to play in high school and also played in college.”

She also pointed out that the three current high school football coaches in Washington County were products of the Parks and Recs programs when they were youth.

“I understand the need for cuts,” said Newkirk, referring to the extra burdens put on the City of Salem due to the flooding in May and the lack of Flood Relief funding on a state and federal level.”

Mayor Merry said he did not want to take anything away from the kids. 


The May flooding devastated the city’s wastewater treatment plant and a rural grant from federal funds has been prepared and will be submitted in early September.

Amy Miller of Conservation Grants Management said the grant would be for $550,000 with a $500,000 match from the city.  

She said the city should know if they received the grant by mid-October. 

Council member Steve Crane asked what the odds were of receiving the funds. 

“Good,” Miller said. “These are hard to get, but you have a lot of political eyes on you.” 

Miller suggested to the council that they obtain letters of support from the community for the grant and include them with the submission. 


John Mead, attorney for the Salem Municipal Air Board, asked the council for permission not to repay a $20,000 payment the city made a few years ago into a fund to offset costs of construction of a new runway at the airport. 

The airport is in the middle of expansions that will ultimately see a 5,000 foot runway, allowing larger planes to land in the community and hopefully attract more and different businesses. 

Mead prepared a resolution for the city and said he was going to make a similar request of the county government this week. 

Mayor Merry said he wanted to point out this was not new money being spent on the airport. “This is not additional taxpayer money. We can’t support the airport anymore. We have to fix water and sewer lines after the flood.”

The council unanimously voted to allow release the obligation to repay the money. 


In the earlier Board of Works meeting, Larry Shanks appeared to challenge the city’s open burning ban. 

Typically this is restricted to cooking fires 3 foot square by 3 feet tall. 

Shanks was working to clean up property and burnt some brush. He was approached by the Salem Fire Department and asked not to do that in the city limits. 

Shanks was upset because he said others in the area were burning as well. 

“I just want to make sure everyone that’s doing this is approached and it’s enforced,” he said. 

The fine can be up to $2500, according to Ryan Bower. 

The city also discussed an ordinance from last year about those mowing near city streets and discharging grass clippings on the road. There is a $25 fine for that. 

Bower said there is an exception for burning within the city limits. If someone receives permission from the Commissioner of IDEM to clear land and burn brush if you are changing the use of the land. 

Diana Campbell also spoke to the board regarding a visibility problem near Standish Street in Salem. 

She said the problem has existed since last November and causes a visibility problem when vehicles are pulling out. Several bushes need to be trimmed by a homeowner and the city is working with that person to trim those bushes. 

Mayor Merry said he hoped to resolve the issue in the next week.