In a major development in Southern Tier dirt track racing, Stateline Speedway has shut down, perhaps for good. The track is a major racing institution for numerous fans and drivers.
In a brief press release issued last Thursday, the track canceled its Fourth of July racing programs, citing a “lapse in insurance coverage.”
The question is will the track – which has operated in Busti for nearly 60 years – ever reopen? At the center of the storm is Stateline promoter Bill Catania Jr., who appears to have fallen from grace in the eyes of the racing community.
Catania entered into a lease agreement in May 2014 with the current owners, the Seamens family, to promote Stateline. He also appointed his father, Bill Catania Sr., to serve as the facility’s general manager.
Since the agreement with Catania began, financial difficulties appeared to gradually come to the forefront.
According to a source close to the situation, Catania Jr. is leasing Stateline in 2015 from the Seamens family on a month-to-month basis. The source said that unpaid vendor bills, the bouncing of drivers’ purse checks, unpaid insurance and other money problems over many months have clouded Stateline’s future.
Another source revealed that due to legal complications surrounding the current problems at Stateline it is unlikely that a new party would enter into a lease or track purchase to revive Stateline.
Catania Jr. did not return phone calls to discuss the various complaints against him.
Catania Jr., who is the president of his own Short Track Management organization, also attempted to purchase or lease five different speedways over the last year, including Stateline and Lancaster National Speedway and Dragway, and all five deals have gone sour.
Catania leased Lancaster last fall and ran the U.S. Open and was generally hailed by many as the savior of the track, which was in danger of closing. Following the U.S. Open, when Catania could not reach a deal last November to purchase Lancaster, current owner Gordon Reger decided to operate the track on his own this season. He has entrusted new General Manager Melissa McGowan and her staff with returning the Gunnville Road oval/drag strip facility to prosperity.
Based on recent events, many in the local auto racing fraternity now believe that it is a blessing that Catania’s deal with Reger fell through. Reger has made many capital improvements to Lancaster and McGowan has brought in new and aggressive marketing ideas.
In addition to Lancaster and Stateline, Catania also tried to buy/lease Lake Erie Speedway in Northeast, Pa., Eriez Speedway in Hammett, Pa., and North Carolina’s Ace Speedway.
The Lake Erie and Eriez negotiations also fell apart. By the time the Lake Erie deal dissolved, there was not enough time for the current Lake Erie owners to properly plan for a 2015 stock car program so the track has sat idle with the exception of a few crash-a-rama type events.
Stateline and Lake Erie are not the only tracks that have suffered canceled races due to Catania Jr. this season.
Catania did negotiate a lease agreement to run Ace Speedway this season, but two weeks ago Ace owner Abraham Woidislawsky jettisoned Catania from the agreement, stating that Catania failed to deliver on certain promises. Ace is currently closed while management reorganizes.
Mike Knight emerged victorious in a torrid battle with Greg Oakes Friday at Little Valley Speedway in the Super Late Model main event and both drivers took the time to offer thoughts on Stateline’s demise. Oakes is the current Super Late Model point leader at Stateline and Knight has competed there many times.
“You know you hear a lot of stories,” Knight said. “I guess I’m more of a guy who sticks more on the side of positive things.” Catania “did a lot of things that were wrong by not paying people. I’m a very big supporter of his father, Bill Catania Sr. I have a lot of respect for Bill Catania Sr. I really don’t know Bill Catania Jr. except a little bit from running the track. Bill Catania Jr. made some terrible business mistakes but all-in-all he tried on the good side of things to put together a place for local racers to race at and I have to give him a round of applause for that.
“But he needs to attend some business classes because he’s lacking in that end of it as far as about the priorities of running a business like paying your bills and taking care of your people.
“He’s got his orders mixed up with running a business. There’s basic principles you practice in business. I believe in respect and paying bills and those are the things he’s lacking.”
Oakes gave his assessment of Stateline’s woes.
“It’s unfortunate the stuff going on there,” Oakes said. “I hope they can get things straightened out and get going again. Stateline’s been our strongest track all season and we won the last race there.
“What are you going to do? If they’re broke and they’re done you just go on. They’re in worse shape than I am. I can’t complain or worry about it. I just hope they can reopen under someone else and we can keep racing there on Saturday nights.”
On Thursday the Short Track Management website was taken down.
In the weeks ahead, as more developments unfold, history will decide if Catania Jr. was a misguided businessman who got in over his head, or someone who had darker motives.