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Promoter wants to hold auto races on Garfield Avenue

A Duluth promoter wants to turn Garfield Avenue into a race track sometime in September or October for city police-approved time trials and a car show.

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A Duluth promoter wants to turn Garfield Avenue into a race track sometime in September or October for city police-approved time trials and a car show.

Ryan Kern, who organizes the Duluth Air Show and other events, is the man with the unique plan. He wants to give car enthusiasts the opportunity -- for a fee -- to match themselves and their cars against the clock and other drivers over a quarter-mile on the avenue.

He said similar events across the country draw thousands of spectators and hundreds of participants. It would start small in Duluth but could grow over the years, Kern said.

"We want people to know, though, that this is not drag racing," Kern said. "It is one car at a time. And the spectators will be behind the starting line. The key here is safety."

Sgt. Ed Moroney, who leads the Duluth Police Department Traffic Bureau, said before Kern gets police backing, first he'll need to see a proposal in writing that addresses all those safety issues. Moroney said drivers have been killed in similar time trials, so he wants Kern to have a professional from the race industry

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overseeing vehicle inspections, protective equipment, insurance and hold-harmless agreements.

"There's a lot of responsibility and safety concerns when you do this kind of venture," Moroney said. "Ryan can't expect to just go out there with a stop watch and piece of chalk, waive a flag and let them go."

Kern, who owns the marketing company Kernz and Kompany in Lincoln Park/West End, said he originally wanted to hold the event the weekend of Sept. 22, but the process is still in its infancy. He just wants to find out what the city would require of his company before investing a lot of time and money into it.

The City Council plans to get all of the event's details at a Sept. 27 committee of the whole meeting. Councilors tabled a resolution to approve the permit because they didn't have details.

Mike Tillman, president of the Nifty 50 Cruisers Car Club, said he thinks the event would be a huge success. He was contacted by Kern in order to gauge interest in the idea. Tillman called around and some car guys told him they'd be there before he could even get all his words out, he said.

"I know for the first year of an event like this, everybody goes, 'Oh, my God,' " Tillman said. "But once it gets started, people will see that it will have a good impact on the economy."

Brainerd International Speedway holds public time trials, and Tillman said they know people there with the knowledge and expertise to help put on a similar event here.

Councilors have some other concerns as well. Garfield Avenue already is a notorious drag strip for illegal hot rodders. And some city councilors said that by endorsing the event, they might be implicitly supporting unsanctioned races in the city.

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Kern said his idea will have the opposite effect. It will give people a chance to legally and safely test every vehicle from mom's minivan to a brand-new Corvette, he said. However, motorcycles would not be allowed.

Garfield is considered ideal for speedsters because it has a long and smooth concrete surface that runs from West Superior Street to past the Goodwill store and ends at the entrance to the Blatnik Bridge, an area that is usually very quiet in the evening and on weekends. Kern said Moroney suggested the site.

Garfield also can be deadly. In 2001, Chad Rozoski, 24, was driving extremely fast about 1 a.m. along the stretch when he lost control of his car and hit a power pole and street lamp. Rozoski died, and his 23-year-old passenger was injured.

At a recent City Council meeting, 5th District Councilor Russ Stover said he had some safety concerns about the proposed length of track. Stover said he has friends who have built race tracks and would prefer that the trials be one-eighth of a mile long.

Fourth District Councilor Garry Krause, whose district includes Duluth Heights, suggested using Airport Road. He said there are no businesses or homes that would be affected.

Airport Road is already well-known by illegal racers and motorcycle tricksters. The stretch of road often is stained with burned rubber. It also has been the site of some serious accidents over the years.

CHRIS HAMILTON covers the Duluth community and city government. He can be reached weekdays at (218) 279-5502 or by e-mail at chamilton@duluthnews.com .

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