Waterford track manager: Speedbowl '100 percent planning to run' events this year

Waterford — Despite longer-than-anticipated grandstand construction delays, the general manager of the New London-Waterford Speedbowl says the track will open and run events this year, even if the season stretches into November.

General Manager Mike Serluca and town officials say plans and permit applications are under review for the first time this year for new grandstands at the Speedbowl, owned since 2014 by wealthy businessman Bruce J. Bemer, who is appealing a recent 10-year prison sentence on sex trafficking crimes, for which he also faces ongoing civil suits.

Serluca, who took on the management role last fall, and Town Planning Director Abby Piersall said applications were submitted earlier this week to get the ball rolling on grandstand replacement — a first in the popular track's 69-year history.

Serluca noted the initial plan was to kick off the season May 11, then later in June when construction was delayed after the bleachers had been demolished for the renovation project, which includes the concession stand and press box. Engineering snags, including the need to create drainage to better control rainwater from the parking lot area, held up construction further, he said.

"We are 100 percent planning on running events this year," Serluca said in an interview Friday evening. "I don't know how many I can guarantee at this time. If I have to run into November, it'll be cold but I'll get these guys as many races as they can race."

Serluca said he's meeting with a contractor on Monday who will help establish a timeline, and he added that "the town of Waterford has been absolutely remarkable to work with. We've met zero resistance from them the whole time."

Piersall said the town technically has 30 days to complete its review of permit applications; as long as applications are complete, building "officials try to make that effort to do it quicker," she said. The track can't open without the permits, inspections and a security plan in place with town police, she said.

Serluca, working directly for the track's management company, of which Bemer is president, said he plans on managing the track "for the long haul," if given the chance. The 40-year-old New London resident said his father took him and his brother to the Speedbowl as kids, and "if you go once, you'll get bitten by the bug and want to come back for more."

Serluca added that "there's been a ton of interest from people that want to buy it, but it's hard to buy something that's not for sale," noting he hasn't had "any indication" from Bemer that he intends on selling it.

Bemer, 65, who owns Bemer Petroleum in Glastonbury and a motorcycle shop in Hartford, was convicted of sex trafficking charges in April. A lifelong racing enthusiast and muscle car owner, Bemer arranged for sex trafficker Robert King to bring mentally disabled and drug-addicted young men to racing events in a Winnebago, according to testimony at his trial.

After his sentencing Bemer posted a $750,000 appeal bond that allows him to remain free while appealing his conviction. He will continue to be electronically monitored and will have a 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. curfew while his appeal is pending. In December 2017, Bemer agreed to set aside $25 million in assets to cover potential damages from pending civil cases filed by several plaintiffs.

Serluca said he sympathizes with racers eager to compete, including the truck division, which is exclusive to the Speedbowl, as well as dedicated fans "playing a waiting game."

"The Speedbowl has such a huge following and they've been under a cloud of not knowing what's going on," he said. "I was hoping to give them some solidarity but construction has been a lot more involved than what was anticipated. But next season we won't have this obstacle in front of us and we should be in good shape to open up on time."

b.kail@theday.com

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