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· Jeff Gordon Fan
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Written by Susan Wade.
Charlie Allen, president of Firebird International Raceway, dispelled rumors Sunday that he soon will retire and that this past weekend's Arizona Nationals will be the final National Hot Rod Association race here in metropolitan Phoenix.

"There are hundreds of rumors that have been going around for 15 years," the longtime track operator said.

"I'll never be retired," Allen said before denying rumors that the Gila River Indian Community will take over the track and operate it with cosmetic improvements or that it will bulldoze the racing property and build a casino in its place.

He said the racetrack commissioned an economic-impact study through Arizona State University's W.P. Carey School of Business in 2009. According to published reports, that research showed that Firebird International Raceway contributed $50.5 million to Maricopa County in 2008. That included direct and indirect spending, as well as tax breaks.

So perhaps Allen was being modest when he said Sunday that "we would impact the tribe $10 million."

However, he said, "It's hard to get their attention,. Not that the relationship is bad . . . We're working on it."

He said the Gila River code specifies that it cannot build a casino within a mile of another of its casinos, so that precludes such a scenario.

One thing is certain: Allen feels comfortable with his post-Winternationals February date for the NHRA's annual visit. Last year the schedule gave Phoenix a Countdown to the Championship race in October. And that, Allen said, "was a terrible knee-jerk reaction to NASCAR's schedule."

Said Allen, "We absolutely shot ourselves in the foot. It was everybody's doing, but I got wrapped up in it, too. Ultimately it was my position. We had all this input pounding on us, but I will take the blame. In hindsight, I should have kept my February date."

He said, "I'm really happy with this date on the schedule."

Firebird International Raceway used to host a preseason test session that was sandwiched between two at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. With more teams relocating their headquarters to Brownsburg, Ind., the preseason focus has shifted to a track in South Florida and the Phoenix "National Time Trials" event has disappeared.

"I loved the warm-up race," Allen said. "You got to see a lot of old friends. I didn't have any stress [as it was a track rental and not a Firebird- or NHRA-sanctioned function]. I hated to see it go."

He understood that "this track is tricky at that time of the year. It actually bites too much at the starting line."

Allen has weathered the weather, unfortunate incidents and even what he called "a black year" of tragedy, track-prep trouble, and general poor publicity. And he said he's not going anywhere.
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