San Benito mud races sink

SAN BENITO — Plans to turn the South Texas Raceway into a tourist draw have sunk into the mud.

After more than a year, Henry Thomae’s dream of reviving the city’s mud races has crumbled.

City commissioners have terminated Thomae’s contract for land at the city’s old airport after he had failed to pay rent for six months.

Now, the city claims Thomae owes $6,250 in back rent and late fees.

“Unfortunately, it didn’t get off the ground,” City Commissioner Esteban Rodriguez said yesterday. “I feel disappointed. It didn’t flourish like I wished it would.”

Last year, Thomae opened the raceway, staging about a half-dozen races.

The first race made money but the rest lost $2,500 to $3,000, Thomae stated.

The city has threatened to take legal action against Thomae if he fails to pay up.

Meanwhile, Thomae blamed the city’s push for more than $200,000 worth of improvements for driving the raceway into the ground.

“The mud races are permanently closed down due to the city requiring so much improvements be done by me at my cost,” Thomae, owner of Fleet Specialties, stated in a Facebook message.

“How the hell am I supposed to invest $250,000 on property I don’t even own!”

Nearly two years ago, Thomae proposed a plan to launch South Texas Raceway, to feature mud races, ATV tracks, a mud pit and drag racing lanes at the city’s old airport.

In April 2016, Thomae, who has been racing for about 35 years, unveiled the plan before Mayor Celeste Sanchez and the city’s previous commission at City Hall.

As part of his proposal, Thomae planned to revive the mud races that drew fans to town decades ago.

“It was something needed,” Rodriguez said yesterday. “It could have attracted people to San Benito.”

According to Thomae, he invested $50,000 on improvements at the raceway featuring bleachers.

“We have learned that all fixtures that had been placed on the leased property were recently removed,” Fred Bell, assistant to City Manager Manuel De La Rosa, stated.

In September 2016, Thomae signed a five-year lease contract, agreeing to pay $1,000 a month along with $50 late fees on 20 acres at the old airport.

“The city of San Benito enters into legal binding agreements and expects the other party to understand their obligations when executing a contract,” De La Rosa stated yesterday.

Thomae questioned, “why continue something that loses $3,000 each race plus I have to improve their (expletive deleted) property, too.”

As part of his contract, Thomae agreed to install electrical, gas and telephone lines along with water and sewer services.

“The city had to do what it had to do,” Rodriguez said. “I think the city tried to help him. He can’t blame it on us.”

Thomae said he approached the city with concerns about the cost of providing services.

“I told them, ‘How can I invest $250,000 in property I don’t own,” he stated.

Now, the city claims Thomae stopped paying rent in August.

But Thomae stated he paid his rent until November.

Last week, Mayor Ben Gomez said Thomae had to pay up.

“We need to go after this,” Gomez said at a meeting. “We don’t need people like that.”

However, the city is counting on Thomae to pay his back rent.

“The city has the means to seek full payment but hopes that the matter can be resolved without legal action,” city spokeswoman Martha McClain stated.

Five-year contract

Requires monthly $1,000 lease payment with $50 late fee

Requires lessee install electrical, gas, telephone lines and water and sewer services