Taebaek Speedway (Korean: 태백스피드웨이) is the second permanent motorsport facility built in South Korea. After a rocky start to life with financial and legal difficulties dominating its early existence, a more stable future now beckons under new ownership.
Renamed and rebranded, the circuit is hoping to build better links with Taebaek City, with the mayor describing the track as the "growth engine" for the city. The close ties of its parent company to Hyundai and Kia also bode well for the future development of the circuit.
While Covid 19 has delayed the pace of renewal, its new operators hope to revive the circuit as an important centre for domestic and regional motorsport in the years to come.
Set in a mountainous region away from the larger metropolitan areas, the circuit was created in part to reuse an area of land which had otherwise been blighted by industrial use.
The track's origins lie the mid-1990s, when land that was part of a sludge overspill area of Korea's largest zinc and lead mine was donated to the City of Taebaek. The mineral layer created a large flat surface in what had previously been a mountain valley and new use was sought to begin the process of beautification and renewal. The construction of a motorsport leisure complex was soon promoted as a private investment project.
Development began under a consortium between Otu Resort and MJD World, an events company, with construction costs of around 30 billion won.
Originally known as Taebaek Yunyong Circuit after its designer's name, the new facility looked for all the world like a scaled-down version of Fuji Speedway. While the track itself is largely flat, the mountain valley backdrop is fairly spectacular. While the layout may be fairly simple, the circuit boasts good facilities, including a grandstand which seats around 3,500 spectators.
The track opened for business on October 16, 2002, though facilities such as the media centre were still to be completed. The first actual car racing held at the track was the Korea Formula Touring Car Championship (KFTC) on May 5, 2003, along with the ceremony to inaugurate the circuit. A Korean Motorcycle Road Race Championship event was held on the same day.
As early as 2004, MJD World encountered financial difficulties as the circuit failed to generate the attention and usage expect. By December it was unable to repay 8.4 billion won in loans and 2 billion won in interest to its bank and the circuit was put up for auction. Its new owner KT Construction renamed the circuit as Taebaek Racing Park, ploughing a further 2 billion won into upgrades.
The circuit's relatively remote setting still hampered its ability to make a major impression on international motorsport, though the Asian Festival of Speed visited in 2005 (with future V8 Supercars driver Michael Patrizi winning the Formula BMW encounter) the Japanese Super Taikyo series came across the waters for a one-off race in 2007.
Domestic racing thus became the circuit's staple and, after the Everland Speedway closed for refurbishment in 2008, it became the country's only major circuit, prior to the building of the Korea International Circuit and Inje Speedium facilities. The Korean RV Championship and CJ Super Race events became the major events in subsequent years, until further financial uncertainty loomed and creditors took over the operation of the circuit in March 2014.
Later in 2014 a deal to sell the track to a subsidiary of car parts manufacturer Seco Seojin Industrial was completed but a legal dispute soon broke out over the sale of the circuit by the creditors. A five year hiatus then followed, where the circuit was effectively dormant while the legal battles waged. Finally, the disputes were all settled and the track re-opened in May 2019 as the rebranded Taebaek Speedway.
The track surface had suffered during the fallow period, with water prone to pooling during rainfall, so an early priority for the new owners was to take a systematic approach to resurfacing problem areas. The Covid-19 pandemic slowed progress somewhat but a good calendar of track days, manufacturer events and testing has been established and it is hoped that the major national motorsports championships will also soon return.
In the meantime, the circuit has established a new event, the Taebaek Track Festival, to liven up the racing calendar.