County hears motorsport possibilities

Published 2:02 pm Friday, February 24, 2023

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During the panel’s regular meeting for February, the Harlan County Fiscal Court was updated on possibilities for motorsports in the area via a presentation from Backroads of Appalachia.

Harlan County Judge-Executive Dan Mosley called on Erik Hubbard, executive director of Backroads of Appalachia, to address the magistrates.

According to the Backroads of Appalachia website at, Backroads of Appalachia is an organization “with a passion and empathy for the Appalachian region driving economic development, job training and opportunity to the poverty-stricken areas of Appalachia through tourism and motorsports.”

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Hubbard told the magistrates he is a native of the area, having grown up near the Letcher County line near Cumberland, Benham and Lynch.

“All roads lead to Harlan County,” Hubbard said. “That’s how we designed it, because I believe in Harlan County, and I believe in what’s coming. You can already start to see the change since we’ve been established.”

Hubbard told the magistrates Backroads of Appalachia serve as an economic driver.

“Our purpose is clear,” Hubbard said. “Economic development through motorsports.”

Hubbard said that Motor Sports is a $60 billion industry across the nation.

“All of a sudden, Backroads of Appalachia and Eastern Kentucky is coming up the corporate ladder with the big dogs giving us phone calls about what they can do here,” Hubbard said. “We work with the counties, we work with the state, and we work with the federal government to do it legally.”

Hubbard mentioned some legislation in the works designed to help make motorsports more accessible.

“Look up House bill 169 and Senate bill 96,” Hubbard told the magistrates. “With help from our state legislatures, we’ve introduced two bills that I think are going to be tremendous for the economic growth of our region. House bill 169 is to bring back ATVs and UTVs and make them street legal with the counties and cities designating where they can enter and where they can’t. With the trail system you already have in place, I think that’s going to help drive more people here and also give them access legally on state roads and wherever to go to their next stop.”

Hubbard noted the federal government owns a large amount of land in the region.

“There are counties out here that can really do something special, but they’re surrounded by 82 to 90 percent owned by the federal government, the national forests,” Hubbard said. “We have Trail Towns that are designated, but they have no trails where they legally can ride. So, we’re leveraging that to get this passed.”

Hubbard also talked about the bill introduced in the Senate.

“Senate bill 96 is the most important thing I feel in the motorsport regime for the state of Kentucky,” Hubbard said. “The state of West Virginia already passed a law in 2016 where you can have racing events on state highways. Racing events require insurance, a safety plan, communication with the county and the Department of Highways. We put a package deal together and we bring organizers from the outside in it’s done in a controlled environment that way.”

Hubbard explained there are state roadways in Harlan County that could be used for events should the bill pass, such as Laden Trail.

“If (Senate bill 96) gets passed…We can utilize opportunities throughout eastern Kentucky to bring more and more motorsport events,” Hubbard said.

Hubbard mentioned the Pine Mountain Hillclimb event, which takes place near Pineville as an example of the sort of income which can be derived from motorsport events.

“Racers have money, disposable income. We need to make sure we get a piece of that pie,” Hubbard said. “The economic impact, what we bring in for a weekend is $3.9 million. That’s what Bell County is receiving from this Hillclimb. Pine Mountain State Resort, every room booked. Downtown Pineville, full.”

Hubbard also talked about some of the activities in Harlan County involving Backroads of Appalachia, including a popular motorcycle route over Black Mountain and the organization’s welcome center located in Lynch.

“Dragonslayer Hwy 160 from Big Stone Gap to Lynch had 44,000 confirmed visitors last year that actually stopped at our welcome center,” Hubbard said. “Think of that initial impact.”