PENWELL -- Late Friday night, lightning set the main building at Penwell Knights Raceway on fire. The damage will keep the only drag strip in West Texas closed for several months.
“From what I’ve seen,” manager Gary Gardenhire said, “The building is going to have to be completely gutted, inside and out. It’ll just be a skeleton of the building left."
As bad as the structural damage was, Gardenhire said the smoke damage to the technology and equipment in the track’s control room could be the most devastating loss.
“We control everything that happens in the facility,” Gardenhire said. “From the front gate to the firefighters and medics, to how the race is ran. What cars are going down. When the next set of cars can go down. It pretty much destroyed the entire room.”
Coincidentally, this building was the replacement for another Penwell Raceway structure that burned down in May of 2016.
“We’ve been trying to rebuild for the last two years,” Gardenhire said. “We’ve had a lot of bad luck here lately. I don’t know what it is. I guess I have more than I deserve.”
Gardenhire said he’s not sure how long the raceway will remain out of business.
“There’s no telling,” Gardenhire said. “It could be six to eight months before we’re back open. We’re shooting for February 1st. That’s our goal. It’s just going to depend on how the insurance works.”
Penwell Raceway is the only one of its kind in West Texas. Gardenhire worries that not being able to race there could have deadly consequences.
“The problem is we cater to street racing this time of year,” Gardenhire said. “We’ve already had deaths this year from street racing. And now they have no place to go. The ones that would consider going to the track before they take it to the street are now going to go to the streets. We’ve got to get open.”
Gardenhire said they’ve rebuilt before, and they’ll do it again.