Heartland Motorsports Park, a distinguished racing facility known for hosting events like the Country Stampede and Menards NHRA Nationals, is at risk of closure. This news comes in the wake of a rejected tax offer from the track’s owner, Chris Payne, to Shawnee County in Kansas.
“I want people to understand that this community may lose Heartland Park due to exorbitant taxes,” Payne shared. “I don’t want people to say, ‘I didn’t know that.’ At least they’ll know now.”
Payne’s company, Shelby Development LLC, is currently embroiled in a property tax legal dispute with Shawnee County. The company owes the county over $2.6 million in delinquent property taxes. While the county appraised the property at $9.05 million, Payne argues that its fair market value is closer to the $2.4 million he paid for it seven years ago.
“We believe the property was and is worth close to the original purchase price, and it should be taxed appropriately,” Payne explained. He adds that if the property were valued as highly as the county appraiser suggests, he would have sold it immediately.
Heartland Park’s closure would have significant implications for the community. “The economic ripples would be exponential,” said David Holstead, Payne’s attorney. However, Shawnee County officials maintain that the property taxes levied are appropriate, and the courts have so far supported this stance.
The racing facility, which first opened its doors in 1989 as Heartland Park Topeka, spans over 619.51 acres and features a quarter-mile drag strip, a road course, an autocross/drift pad, and a motocross track. It’s hosted national events for many prestigious racing bodies, including the NHRA, NASCAR, AMA, and SCCA.
Payne, who purchased the track in 2015, emphasized that his involvement in Heartland Park has never been about money, but passion. “I don’t do this for the money,” he said. “I’ve never taken a paycheck out of this. Never will. It doesn’t render one. I write a check to work here, ironically.”
However, Payne acknowledges that there are limits to his investments. “I’m not super wealthy,” he admitted. “I don’t mind writing a check, but I can’t just throw money away.” He paid the property taxes for 2016 but has since refrained, claiming that the county’s appraisal value far exceeds the track’s actual market value.
Payne’s legal battles against the county’s appraiser’s office began in 2019, leading to a 11-count lawsuit filed by Shelby Development against Shawnee County and its appraiser’s office. A Shawnee County District Court judge ruled in favor of the county on all 11 counts in April 2022. An appeal has been filed, and a decision is expected within the next two to four months.
With the future of Heartland Park hanging in the balance, the loss of the iconic racing facility would mark a significant blow to both the drag racing community and Shawnee County.