BY IMRAN GHORI
STAFF WRITER
ighori@pe.com

Published: 14 April 2012 06:22 PM

With drag racing at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana halted due to a court order, racing enthusiasts are lobbying the county to get the racetrack reopened.

Supporters have formed a group called Save Auto Club Dragway, created a Facebook page and signed petitions. More than two dozen of them spoke at the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors meeting last week, urging the county to help the speedway get the approvals it needs.

The races that usually filled three out of four weekends a month were suspended following a Feb. 23 court ruling setting aside the county’s approval of a drag strip there and finding that the environmental impact report on the operation was flawed.

Jim Willoughby of Ontario, one of the leaders of Save Auto Club Dragway, said with the Fontana location shut the closest drag way is north of Bakersfield. The racing program helps decrease illegal racing on public streets and contributes to the local economy, he said.

“These thousands of racers need somewhere to enjoy their hobby,” Willoughby said.

The speedway has also won support from those in the auto-products industry and the Automobile Club of Southern California, which sent a letter to the county last week.

Mike Rice, Pacific division director for the National Hot Rod Association, said his group has been working with the speedway to show public support for the drag racing activities.

“This is a very passionate group of people,” Rice said. “They want to keep this track going.”

Deputy County Counsel Bart Brizzee said the speedway has until April 23 to appeal the court ruling which found that the speedway cannot continue drag racing until it conducts an environmental review and builds a sound wall at the north end of the drag strip that was a condition of a November 2010 approval.

David Tally, a spokesman for the speedway, said he could not comment because of the ongoing litigation.

“We’re reviewing our options right now as we have been since we got the decision by the court,” he said.

Supervisor Janice Rutherford, whose district includes the speedway, said the county is looking to the speedway to decide what will happen next.

“If they want to work with the county to get the drag strip operating, we’re more than happy to work with them,” she said.

Rutherford, who noted that she was not on the board when the drag strip was previously approved, said the county needs to make sure everything is “handled carefully and diligently” this time and in a way that is “mindful of the needs of the community and the folks who recreate.”

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