EXIT INTERVIEW: SEATTLE'S JIM ROCKSTAD
By Susan Wade
A quarter of a century and it comes down to who gets custody of the walkie- talkies. And the jersey barriers. And the timing systems and scoreboards and the fencing. And nearly everything in Jim Rockstad's personal collection of assets at the drag-racing facility that's in the process of changing its name from Seattle International Raceway to Pacific Raceway.
Jay Livingston is coming up from Woodburn, Ore., to manage the track for owners Dan and Joe Fiorito, starting Jan. 1, 2002. But when he arrives for his first day of work, the place will look empty.
Outgoing operator Rockstad, his family's longtime friend but nemesis of the Fiorito brothers, is selling just about everything but the asphalt quarter-mile strip that's part of a nine-turn, 2.25-mile road course and home for the last 14 Julys to the NHRA's Northwest Nationals. Everything from office equipment to the '56 Corvette and a '56 Ford F800 fire truck is for sale at an auction Thursday, Nov. 15.
Rockstad described his emotions as "a little bit of everything" as the day approached. But rather than dwell on the absurd vicious circle of property- management disputes, legal wars and public-relations skirmishes that have marked the later years of his tenure, Rockstad chose to be excited. He's especially excited about the response he has received from the auction notice he sent to about 1,500 race tracks in North America and racing enthusiasts in the Pacific Northwest.
"I think it'll be a fun deal," he said. "We've gotten lots of calls, and people are coming from North Dakota, Montana, Texas, California and all over."
He had hoped he wouldn't have to auction these items -- including the three-story tower building, grandstand seating for approximately 16,000, about 15,000 feet of chain-link fencing, track equipment, tickets booths and hospitality tents. He had hoped the NHRA or the Fiorito family would purchase his holdings.
"SIR looks like it's going bankrupt. In the eyes of the community, that's what it looks like," Rockstad said. "It's stupid. I don't know why there couldn't have been a settlement."
He said in the summer of 2001, he offered Peter Clifford, NHRA Senior Vice- President of Business Operations and Chief Financial Officer, a chance to buy his assets and release him early from his contract. "I own a lot of assets that make sense for them to have while they make their transition. But the NHRA wasn't interested. They don't care," Rockstad said.
He said the Fiorito brothers also turned down a similar proposal. "You'd think they'd want to go in and cut a deal and get me out early and take over. This (situation) is foolhardy. But that's kind of the way they (NHRA and Firoito family) both are.
"I don't like dealing with either party."
Rockstad said, "There are certain people you respect for the way they do business -- guys like (IHRA boss) Bill Bader, for instance. The IHRA is like family and friends. The NHRA is attorneys and contracts, take-it-or-leave-it kind of stuff. They just make one bad move after another."
He cited the decision about bumping the Pro Stock Trucks class down to the sportsman ranks. Like many, he said the distasteful part was the way the NHRA failed to inform the teams. "The NHRA should have come out at the Finals last year and said what it was going to do, not wait until the end of this summer. Years ago, that's how they used to do it," he said. "They gave the racers a whole year so they could know what they were going to do.
"It used to be a partnership, but now they railroad everything
through," Rockstad said. "I don't know a track operator who isn't upset."
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