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Petitioner offers free race night

COVINGTON -- The man behind the proposed drag strip that will now be in the hands of the Newton County Board of Commissioners is offering a free race night for all Newton residents at Lanier National Speedway.

Walton County resident Donnie Clack said he wants to dispel falsehoods that have been spread about the development he intends to bring to Newton County and hopes inviting the community out to his drag strip in Braselton will help accomplish that.

At 7 p.m. Aug. 7, Clack will host Newton County Night at Lanier National Speedway.

"Anybody that lives in Newton County and shows their ID, I'll let them in free. It won't cost a penny to come to the race. I want to get groups that want and support it and those that are fighting it to come out and see what they like or don't like. It will tell you something about the motorsports world and what we do," Clack said.

Clack intends to petition the Newton County Board of Commissioners to rezone more than 320 acres between Interstate 20 and U.S. Highway 278 to construct a motorsports complex. However, he has yet to turn in a petition to the planning department and said it could be as late as January before the topic gets on an agenda.

"We're not going in halfway this time," Clack said, adding that he is getting noise and traffic studies completed so that he will have all the facts when he goes before the BOC.

Though commissioners signed a letter opposing the drag strip when it was before the Social Circle Planning Commission for consideration, Clack said he hopes they will consider all the facts before making a decision.

"That's like saying, 'I don't want that apple pie because it doesn't taste good.' Well, how do you know? It's premature, what they've done. When we come to them we're going to have enough facts that we hope they'll go for it based on the facts we present to them," he said.

In May, the Social Circle City Council de-annexed Clack's property due to what officials called a technical flaw in the 2008 annexation. A one-acre parcel of land fronting U.S. 278 was erroneously considered part of Clack's larger Little River Ventures parcel. However, the acre is apparently owned by a separate individual who did not request annexation into Social Circle, thereby creating an island of unincorporated land, which made the annexation illegal.

The proposal had met with community opposition in Social Circle from residents who contended the drag strip would adversely affect their properties with increased noise, traffic and pollution. A group called Concerned Citizens of Social Circle formed with the goal of building opposition to the drag strip and urging officials to deny the zoning request.

Clack said that group spread misinformation and fear and he wants people to see for themselves what a drag strip is all about before casting judgment.

"They don't know; they believe what they're told. I thought this would be a good time for them to come check it out," he said.

But Clack said he already has plenty of support from Newton residents, and he hopes public opinion will sway the BOC.

"Everywhere I go, I don't care where I go, somebody is asking me, 'Are we going to get a drag strip? When are we going to get the drag strip?' Nobody ever asked me, 'Are we going to get a subdivision?' I've never had that. There's just a vocal minority that makes all the racket. We've got a ton of support from Newton County citizens," he said.

The letter signed by county commissioners raised concerns about noise, traffic and public safety. The letter also says the drag strip would make houses in the area unmarketable and the growth around the drag strip would negate much of the county's comprehensive plan by creating mostly service-sector jobs in a low-density area. The letter states the greatest harm would come to Stanton Springs, the nearby 1,600-acre development owned jointly by Jasper, Morgan, Newton and Walton counties.

Clack said the noise could be mitigated, and he doubts it will cause more than what can already be heard from Interstate 20. He said the drag strip will bring people to Newton County who will stay at local hotels and eat at local restaurants, helping the economy. And it could expose people to Stanton Springs and encourage rather than detract from development there, he said.

"I'd love for all the community politicians to come out," he said of Newton County Night at Lanier National Speedway. The speedway is located on U.S. Highway 53 between Interstate 85 and Interstate 985.

Staff correspondent Aimee A. Jones contributed to this story.