For the majority of the racing offseason, the status of the 2015 racing season at New London-Waterford Speedbowl (CT) was up in the air. While the parties involved spent countless hours in the court room, fans were left wondering whether or not there would be racing at the shoreline-oval this upcoming season.
Eventually, differences in the court room were settled and local businessman Bruce Bemer was officially named the owner of the facility. Shortly after, former Connecticut Modified and Street Stock racer Shawn Monahan was named the track’s general manager.
With a number of questions still being asked about the facilities plans moving forward, Speed51.com’s Rob Blount talked to Monahan about his decision to become the GM of the race track and his future plans with the facility.
Speed51: How did this move from driver to track operator come about?
Shawn Monahan: I’m a very persistent person. Back in about 2008 or so with previous management I had signed a five year lease that never really came to fruition. It essentially turned me into a lien holder. So while the track was going through all these foreclosure hearings I was heavily involved in all the court cases. I kept tabs on who the players were and what was taking place.
I’d like to think that the current owner, Bruce Bemer, would agree that if it wasn’t for my persistence with the lien holders and the attorneys that this race track would still be in the appeals process and nobody would be racing.
Through negotiations we were able to come to an agreement and remove the appeal, in which case Bruce became owner of the property and I was chosen to be general manager.
51: Is there a chance you’ll still race on occasion?
Monahan: I am absolutely leaving the driver’s seat. It is extremely important to have success for the race track, and I don’t believe that I could put all of my focus into operating a race track correctly if I were to be behind the wheel of a race car.
And not only that, because I am very passionate about racing and I’m very competitive, I would hate to be in a scenario where another competitor is unhappy with my driving style or something that takes place on the track. It would just be unprofessional of all parties if I was to be involved on the other side.
51: Was stepping out of the driver’s seat something you had been thinking about for a while?
Monahan: As much as I loved driving a race car, and owning my own sign company now for the past 15 years, business is something that I’ve always enjoyed. If I can do business in something that I love like auto racing, then it’s well worth stepping out from behind the driver’s seat.
I have a Modified and a Street Stock in my garage. I can go out and talk to them like all drivers do. Unfortunately, they’ll be sitting in the garage for a long time to come. And I’m okay with that decision. I was looking forward to it. I was hoping that the opportunity to run a race track would come, and now that it has it’s a dream come true.
51: What challenges do you foresee this year and in years to come?
Monahan: The reason why Bruce bought this race track is because he’s an automobile enthusiast, and he’s a great businessman with some successful businesses himself. I need to prove that I can run the business the way it should be run. To me, that means hiring the right staff in the very beginning stages that we are in, placing people in the right positions, bringing back some valuable players and bringing in some new employees. It’s all a difficult avenue to travel right now. I’m going to make some mistakes along the way. I just hope we rebound as quickly as possible. We are starting from scratch here.
I’ve got some concerns with scheduling conflicts and making sure we make the right decisions, but I’ve got to counter that with believing that I have the best race director available. Scott Tapley is helping me put together the entire racing program along with building alliances with other local race tracks so that I don’t make mistakes that other people have already made.
With that said, I feel like I’m in good shape, but we won’t know until the green flag drops.
51: What kind of improvements do you expect to be made to the facility, if any, in the coming years?
Monahan: We’ve already met with all town officials, from police, fire, building, and zoning. There’s general areas that need attention immediately that we will follow through on, which are some grandstand repairs and some minor changes needed throughout the facility. But in the long-term, because right now we just need to get a lot of snow out of the way and work towards opening up the race track, right now I’m getting quotes for grandstands, I’m getting quotes for fencing, I’m getting quotes for remodeling bathrooms.
There are going to be changes taking place. I just don’t know the order in which they will be. But safety is Bruce’s number one concern, and everybody needs to have a great time. There are some areas that could use some improvement that everyone is aware of. I’d say the three that we are going to be focusing on right away are bathrooms, grandstands and fencing.
51: What’s the communication like between you and Bruce Bemer?
Monahan: We have a wonderful relationship. When somebody has faith in you it’s a lot easier to do a job correctly. I had my own finances fall through when I wanted to be the track owner at Waterford. Bruce and I had spoken about that. It was just days before the foreclosure sale that my financing had fallen through. He knows my drive and passion to operate a race track. He knows that it’s very difficult to find somebody, even myself as a business owner, to find somebody that will operate a place like it’s their own.
I am strategically making moves to improve the race track and relationships with competitors, fans and sponsors the way I would if I had actually bought it myself. He believes in me and I have all the appreciation of his faith.
51: What are your thoughts on the previous management group? It seems like a lot of changes have already been made, so is it fair to say that the previous group dug a hole that you now have to try to dig out of?
Monahan: There were a lot of upset staff members and competitors who were collectively not happy with the way things were going and still maybe haven’t received their final race payments. But they’re willing to put that behind them now that they see the track has changed hands, and the excitement level going forward is what we need to focus on at this point.
There will be some staff members that worked there before that either will, or I want to have come back. We still have a lot of hiring left to do. And obviously there will be some new staff and management coming into place. We are siphoning through right now.
-By Rob Blount, Speed51.com Northeast Editor -Twitter: @RobBlount
-Photo Credit: Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park Photo