WATERFORD, Conn. (AP) — Adam Gada is not sure he’ll ever race again at the New London-Waterford Speedbowl, a small Connecticut racetrack that has been part of his family’s life since it opened in 1951.
The third generation driver had his SK Modified car ready to go for the planned May 6 start to the racing season. He’d even bought a second chasse as a backup.
But, a sex scandal involving the track’s owner has kept the Speedbowl closed this year, leaving Gada and others waiting, wondering and making contingency plans.
“I know a lot of guys don’t even want to race there because of what’s happened,” he said. “It doesn’t feel to me like it’s ever going to open. It just doesn’t seem feasible that it will open again, at least not this year.”
The track’s owner, 63-year-old Bruce Bemer, of Glastonbury, was hailed as a savior when he bought the Speedbowl in 2014, saving it from closing, and embarked on a renovation project. He also owns a number of other businesses in the state.
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Bemer was arrested in March and charged with patronizing a trafficked person in connection with what authorities called a long-running human trafficking ring based in Danbury. Many of the victims, authorities said, were young people with mental illnesses.
Court documents allege Bemer told police he had been paying boys for sex for more than 20 years.
“I would simply ask everyone not to rush to judgment regarding the claims against Bruce,” his attorney, John Droney, said. “I’m involved in an active investigation of those people who are making those claims, their motives, their backgrounds and their credibility.”
No one has alleged that anything inappropriate ever happened at the racetrack.
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Last month, NASCAR pulled its sanction for the Whelen All-American Series from the Speedbowl in the wake of Bemer’s arrest. The track’s racing director, chief steward and several other officials resigned.
Last weekend, track officials issued a statement on the Speedbowl’s Facebook page saying a lease deal was in the works that would allow racing this season. But the post disappeared a few hours later.
“Although any announcement regarding a possible agreement to lease the New London-Waterford Speedbowl for the upcoming season is premature, management is working to preserve the upcoming season and jobs at the Speedbowl,” said Chuck Coursey, the track’s spokesman.
He would not comment on whether Bemer is trying to sell the track. Bemer is due back in court Tuesday.
Meanwhile, drivers such as Gada are weighing their options. He is considering entering races this summer at the Thompson Speedway, about an hour north. But bigger fields, because of racers coming from Waterford, would likely make it harder to qualify to get into a feature event, he said.
Gada said he’s still hoping to race at the bowl.
His grandfather’s brother raced there, as did his father, uncles and cousins. Nobody makes much money doing it, he said. They all race because they love the sport and the community they have formed.
There’s also a history. Drivers such as Ron Bouchard and Jeff Bodine have raced there.
“This is our home,” he said. “Families that go to the bowl went when they were kids and now, they bring their kids. But this whole situation right now, well, it’s not very family friendly.”