Gatorback event canceled over code violations


In this Feb. 21, 2009 file photo, young motorcycle and ATV riders rest during the Florida Trail Riders Hare Scrambles Race presented at Gatorback.

File
Published: Monday, February 25, 2013 at 9:30 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, February 25, 2013 at 9:30 p.m.

Gatorback Cycle Park in Alachua was supposed to be buzzing this weekend as motocross riders raced through the nearby woods.

But Alachua County code violations led the track operation to cancel the competition, upsetting riders and spectators alike who planned to go.

Big Scrub Trail Riders, a local motocross club within Florida Trail Riders, spent the past few weekends preparing the site, located at 20525 NW 46th Ave., for its annual Hare Scrambles at Gatorback event, which would have run Saturday and Sunday. The competition features a race through the woods that taxes riders' endurance.

But the club learned Friday from Unlimited Sports MX Inc., which operates Gatorback, that the race was canceled. Volunteers spent the weekend clearing its preparations from the site for an event it would no longer host.

Michael Jones, a member of Big Scrub Trail Riders, said the event's cancellation was a loss for the Gainesville area as a whole.

On a good racing weekend, the annual event draws 600 to 700 entries to compete and a total crowd of 1,500 to 2,000. This influx of motocross fans brings money into the local community as people buy dinner, get gas and rent motel rooms.

"Our club is out quite a bit of money," he said of the race's cancellation.

Rick Wolf, assistant director of growth management for Alachua County, said it was Gatorback, not the county, that chose to cancel the event.

According to an email Wolf sent to county staff and commissioners, Wyndell Kern, the owner of Unlimited Sports MX, canceled it so he can "get his house in order" before holding further races there.

The county identified several code violations at a Nov. 20 event at the track, according to the email.

A few days later on Nov. 23, 16-year-old motocross racer Jantz Grodzicki, of San Diego, was in a serious crash while racing at Gatorback during the Thor Winter Olympics, also known as the Mini Olympics, or Mini O's. He later died after he was taken off life support.

The track's violations included unpermitted buildings and obstructed emergency fire lanes, Wolf said in a later interview. The county, which met with Gatorback representatives Friday, offered a choice: Cancel the event or make some adjustments.

Gatorback could host the event if the unpermitted structures were kept off-limits and the fire lanes were left open, Wolf said.

The county met with Gatorback representatives in January and earlier in February, as well as Friday. Staff hoped the property's operators would have already dealt with the violations before this event, Wolf said.

"Our main concern is certainly public safety," he said. "It's my understanding they made the decision, rather than have the potential of more violations, that they were going to get their situation corrected before they did anything more."

To resolve the violations, Gatorback needs to go through the county's land-use and zoning process to expand its permitted uses and either get currently unpermitted structures approved or remove them, he said.

Allen Pearce, the trail boss organizing the event and treasurer of Big Scrub Trail Riders, said people upset by the race's cancellation who emailed the county did not do so at the club's request, but were understandably frustrated.

"We're not trying to create any trouble here," Pearce said. "We don't want to make it worse on the track owner."

The club has presented this particular race for a decade or longer, and it is one of Florida Trail Riders' highest-attended events, he said. Although it will lose some money from the abrupt cancellation, he insisted that money isn't the "motivating force."

About 20 volunteers a day worked for six hours at a time during the past few weekends to clear the racing path, set up markers and prepare for the competition because they love the sport.

"We have a good time doing it, you know, or we wouldn't be out there doing it," he said. The frustration over the event's cancellation isn't about losing money as much as losing an opportunity, he said.

The club hopes to reschedule the event at a different location, most likely in May.

Requests for interviews with Gatorback representatives were not returned by Monday evening.

Contact Morgan Watkins at 338-3104 or morgan.watkins@gvillesun.com.

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