Spokane Journal of Business

What’s Happening With: Qlispe´ Raceway Park

Kalispel Tribe plans full road course, dragster event schedule at raceway

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The Kalispel Tribe of Indians is planning full road course and drag racing seasons starting this spring at its Qlispé Raceway Park, formerly Spokane County Raceway, almost 1 1/2 years after buying the property. 

Road course racing will start the third week in April and run through September or possibly into October, says Rodney “RJ” Nomee, Qlispé’s general manager and a Kalispel Tribal Council member.

Nomee, who has a background as a drag racer, says tentative plans for the drag strip are to have the opening race in May, with the season to run through September.

While he’s still working on a race calendar, Nomee says it likely will include at least 63 days of scheduled events, with the potential for adding more dates.

As earlier reported in the Journal, the tribe purchased the 243-acre facility at 750 N. Hayford Road, just west of its Northern Quest Resort & Casino, from Spokane County in October 2021 for $5.35 million.

The tribe has since renamed the facility Qlispé, which is pronounced kuh-lee-SPEH, the original way members pronounced the tribe’s name.

The racing facility was built in the 1970s with a half-mile oval, a quarter-mile drag strip, and a 2.5-mile road course that accommodates stock cars and motorcycles.

Nomee says the oval track will require “a tremendous amount of work” to return it to racing condition—and that won’t happen this year.

“We need some return on our investment before we consider it,” he says.

Nomee says the road course was the easiest to open with the least capital outlay for a partial season last year.

“We did a lot of cleaning up and moving walls for the road course to make it safer for drivers and painted a lot of curbing and put lines on entire course, so you can see the edges, even at night,” he says. “On the drag strip side, we just installed new scoreboards at the finish line.”

A new drag racing timing system also will be installed in time for racing.

He says the cost for those improvements is approaching $200,000.

Qlispé also has upgraded technology infrastructure, including Wi-Fi, security, and point-of-sale improvements.

With improvements made and planned, the track might not be profitable this year. “I’m not sure we’ll be able to achieve that goal this year, but we’re going to try,” he says.

Nomee is Qlispé’s only full-time employee, although he expects the facility will hire about 15 seasonal workers for the racing season.

Qlispé will have the same food vendors that handle concessions for Northern Quest’s outdoor concert series. The casino also will supply security as needed for larger events at Qlispé, he says.

Last year, the road course hosted 25 days of open lapping and actual racing, including a 24-hour endurance race called the Qlispé Classic, which will be held again this year, Nomee says.

Getting the drag strip operating again will be significant, as racers familiar with the track’s history of holding American Hot Rod Association world drag racing finals in the late 1970s and early 1980s are eager for it to reopen, Nomee claims.

“A lot of racers know this place and want that to return,” he says.

Prior to the tribe buying the facility, Spokane County acquired the property at auction in 2008 for $4.3 million. At the time, the raceway was under court-appointed receivership as part of a legal battle between the facility’s original owner and investors. The county had worked with three operators to run the raceway, each of which had a difficult time making a go of it. The county terminated its last operator agreement in March 2021 at the operator’s request, and the Kalispel Tribe approached the county about acquiring it two months later.

“We are in the best position of any company to take over, because we have our own marketing. We have our own legal team, and we have our own EMTs. The list goes on for the things we have in place,” Nomee claims. “The proximity to the resort and hotel is something no other raceway has—not even Las Vegas. The track there is at least a half-hour from the strip on a good day.”

Nomee says Qlispé currently can accommodate over 10,000 spectators.

“On a normal weekend, we would expect about 200 racing entries,” he says, although he adds that Qlispé can accommodate championship events, which could draw 600 racers.

Mike McLean
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Deputy Editor Mike McLean has worked his entire journalism career in the Inland Northwest. Mike, who also lives to reel in fish and crank up music, has worked for the Journal since 2006.

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