NASCAR Hopefuls Left Hanging After Short Track Owner's Sex Trafficking Charges
"This is our home," a third-generation racer said as the track remains closed.
After New London-Waterford Speedbowl owner Bruce Bemer was arrested last month for his alleged role in a decades-long sex trafficking ring, NASCAR quickly moved to end its use of the Connecticut short track for the Whelen All-American Series. Now a new Associated Press report highlights how the whole situation has gutted the Speedbowl's tight-knit community of semi-professional racers, many of whom are wondering if they'll ever get a chance to race on the 3/8-mile oval again.
When the news first broke at the beginning of April, people like third-generation driver Adam Gada were busy preparing for the early-May start of the season like any other year. All those carefully-laid and expensive plans were immediately dashed when it came out that Speedbowl owner Bruce Bemer, who rescued the track from dire financial straits when he bought the place in 2014, had been charged with participating in a long-running sex trafficking ring involving young men with mental illnesses.
NASCAR pulled its affiliation, track officials resigned, several victims filed lawsuits to put Bemer's assets (including the Speedbowl) in the hands of the court, and the planned May 6 season-opener came and went without any update for the drivers.
"I know a lot of guys don’t even want to race there because of what’s happened," Gada told the AP. "It doesn’t feel to me like it’s ever going to open. It just doesn’t seem feasible that it will open again, at least not this year."
Last week, the track posted an update to their Facebook page stating that a deal had been forged to allow at least some racing this summer—only to quickly walk it back once local media picked up the story, deleting the post and claiming that management was only "working" on securing a lease deal. Bemer's case is still in the preliminary stages, so it will be a while before there's any sort of closure.
In the meantime, people like Gada are left to face the future without the racetrack that once provided a home to their fathers and grandfathers, not to mention NASCAR drivers like Geoff Bodine. There are a couple other small-town tracks in Connecticut, but with the loss of the New London-Waterford Speedbowl the fields are bigger and community isn't the same.
"Families that go to the bowl went when they were kids and now, they bring their kids. But this whole situation right now, well, it’s not very family friendly," Gada said.