For more than a year, the speedway sat empty and quiet, all but a forgotten relic of Augusta's rich past in stock car racing.
After closing in 1998 because of a lease dispute between its owners and manager, Augusta Motor Speedway seemingly had run out of gas.
Then came George Bryan.
Three months ago, Mr. Bryan, chief executive officer of Eagle Developers, purchased the 51-year-old Gordon Highway site, named it Silver Eagle Speedway and today is busy attempting to renovate the track back to glory to a tune of roughly $1 million.
"Basically, anywhere I can spit, there's work to be done," Mr. Bryan said recently while touring the site. "When we're finished, it'll be even nicer than the day it opened."
Since his purchase, however, Mr. Bryan has found himself having to prove his commitment to making what he calls his "vision of re-establishing racing in Augusta" beneficial for all county residents.
So far, many nearby homeowners have been opposed to the reopening because of the noises that have been generated by the track in the past. Five months ago, when Mr. Bryan asked county commissioners to rezone the track to allow it more operational days, several Parham Road residents signed a petition to have the request denied.
Richard Hogue, who lives less than a mile from the track on Parham Road, led the drive.
"We are still opposed to it on two main issues," Mr. Hogue said recently. "The first is economic. We know that the value of property will go down. Then, there's also the issue of people's mental health ... which is a reason for keeping the noise down."
Although the rezoning passed and Mr. Bryan purchased the track, restrictions by the county were imposed on the speedway, including that it maintain a sound level not to exceed 60 decibels, have no Sunday racing and have a fence installed around it.
Already, Mr. Bryan has had grandstands reinforced with steel beams and new plywood, electrical equipment rewired and redirected underneath the track and flooding problems fixed with a new drainage system. The track even has been given a new bowl-shaped design, which should keep racers from flying off the track while turning corners.
Mr. Bryan similarly has begun construction on a 4-foot-high wall around the entire track. A $60,000, 8-foot-high sound-deadening wall will be constructed in February. With that, he has promised county officials to make it mandatory that all racers put mufflers on their cars.
Kevin Fort with the county's Planning and Zoning Committee attended a sound test at the track several months ago and came away optimistic.
"I have to say that I've been impressed with what Mr. Bryan has done so far," he said. "It's obvious that he's putting a lot of money into this thing. And right now, he's right on track with all of the requirements."
Mr. Bryan said working hand in hand with residents and the county has been his intention all along. He said almost all of the track's construction work has been performed by Columbia County businesses, and once NASCAR venues make it to the track, visitors will only add to the county's revenue.
"We are doing everything we promised we'd do," Mr. Bryan said. "We are building a track that's been our vision. Right now, we're bringing trade in ... and we're going to give people high-quality entertainment."
Still, for those like Mr. Hogue, the next few months leading up to the track's scheduled reopening in March will be a waiting game.
"Frankly, what we're going to do is just wait and see what he does," Mr. Hogue said. "And if he doesn't keep up his agreements then we will be back in the streets."
Reach Preston Sparks at (706) 868-1222,Ext. 110, or email@example.com
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