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(Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune) After playing host to Superbikes on Memorial Day weekend for the previous six years, the pit area at Miller Motorsports Park stands empty this weekend.
Miller Motorsports Park: On the right track?
Racing » After setbacks, Miller Motorsports Park explores new avenues.
First Published May 25 2013 08:51 am • Last Updated Dec 07 2013 11:32 pm

Tooele • Miller Motorsports Park is quiet this Memorial Day weekend.

No high-pitched shrieks from bullet-like motorcycles.

At a glance

MMP schedule

The major on-track events this season at Miller Motorsports Park. For ticket information call 1-435-277-7223 or visit MillerMotorSports.com:

June 22-23, Lucas Off-Road Racing Series

What you will see: Vehicles in seven classes flying through the air in two rounds of competition.

Aug. 3-4, GEICO Motorcycle AMA Pro Road Racing

What you will see: Competitors formerly on World Superbike undercard take center stage.

Aug. 17, Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship

What you will see: Miller Motorsports Park unveils its new course for the popular national series.

Sept. 14-15, NASCAR K&N Pro West Series

What you will see: It’s bottom-tier NASCAR racing, but other stops include Phoenix, Sonoma

There was probably a feeling that, “If I build it, they will come.’ But they didn’t.”

John Larson

Miller Motorsports Park manager

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No riders pushing their machines down the long straightaway at nearly 200 mph.

No worldwide media coverage.

For the first time in six years, the racetrack that the late Larry H. Miller carved out of the Tooele Valley desert is not playing host to FIM World Superbike, one of the most high-profile motorcycle racing series on the planet.

The event never took off in Utah.

Attendance lagged far behind what WSBK draws at its other venues, and Miller Motorsports Park lost millions of dollars on what had evolved into its marque event.

"World Superbike is huge internationally and we did everything we could to make it successful," MMP general manager John Larson said. "But it didn’t make sense for us to continue. … It was a financial decision."

Officials at World Superbike seem to understand Larson’s dilemma. They have moved their only North American tour stop to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, in Monterey, Calif., in September.

"There’s no critical reason why we do not come to Miller anymore," said WSBK spokesperson Valentina Conti. "It is a great circuit with a fantastic staff. But the contract is over. We had to look at further opportunities and California is a great motorcycle market. It is a chance to [increase] our visibility there."

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Laguna Seca and northern California have three major advantages over Miller Motorsports Park when it comes to providing a home for World Superbike: market size, predictable weather and a long-established history.

Gill Campbell, the CEO and general manager at Laguna Seca, calls Miller Motorsports Park "a great racetrack."

She knows, however, that her venue provides many benefits — requirements, maybe — that MMP does not.

"Being a ‘destination’ can be very important," Campbell said, "… and Salt Lake City is not on everybody’s radar. But the Monterey Peninsula is a destination — with a ribbon in it."

She continued: "Race fans are among the most picky in sports. … You need to be able to get off a plane, drive a short distance to the hotel and drive a short distance to the racetrack. We have that here."

In hindsight, Larson knows Miller Motorsports Park was fighting an impossible battle by staging WSBK on a 7-year-old track located 40 miles west of Salt Lake City. The event’s weekend attendance was about 49,000 last year.

"This is a very immature motorsports community, compared to Laguna Seca and other tracks that have been around for 50 or 60 years," he said.

Referring to market size, Larson said, "In motorsports — traditionally — you have to fish from a much bigger pond just to get the support you need."

It wasn’t supposed to be like this, of course.

Miller Motorsports Park was built at a cost of $85 million, or almost $20 million more than Larry H. Miller spent on constructing EnergySolutions Arena in 1990-91.

The world-class track opened in 2006 and almost immediately attracted events such as the American Le Mans Series and the Grand-Am Sunchaser 1,000 endurance race.

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