Customers in Action

Lyle Farms

PECAN FARMING IS JUST ONE OF MANY BUSINESS INTERESTS FOR THIS SOUTHWESTERN GEORGIA ENTREPRENEUR

January 11, 2016

“Komatsu products are definitely well-made”

Wayne Lyle has been an engineer, entrepreneur and a farmer. He’s worked in the automotive industry in Detroit, built pipe plants in New Jersey and has owned his own precast/ prestressed concrete business, one he named ConArt. The high-profile company did the outside skin for many well-known structures throughout the southeastern U.S., including the University of Alabama’s Shelby Hall, Auburn’s Lowder Hall, Phillip Morris’ headquarters in Richmond, Virginia, and the parking deck at Atlanta’s Hartsfield International Airport.

After selling ConArt, Lyle – who grew up on a Canadian farm north of Toronto – returned to his roots. He bought some land in southwestern Georgia’s Sumter County and started Lyle Farms, LLC. Today, the 2,500-acre farm employs about 25 people and specializes in pecans. It also grows row crops such as corn, soybeans and wheat.

“When I left Canada, I swore I’d never go back to farming – but I guess it gets in your blood, because here I am,” Lyle explained. “I started large-scale farming in 2009 with about 25,000 pecan trees. I needed to develop land, dig and transplant trees, so that’s why I started buying construction equipment.”

In addition to the farm, Lyle also has an agricultural supply/transportation business – Agricultural Material Group. It distributes lime, gypsum and aggregates from rail yards in Cobb and Cordele, Georgia.

You might think that those two businesses would be plenty for a guy who has reached retirement age, but earlier this year, Lyle also purchased a racetrack near Cordele in Crisp County. He renamed it Crisp Motorsports Park, Home of Watermelon Capital Speedway. The name is a reflection of Cordele’s billing as ‘‘The Watermelon Capital of the World.’’

Wayne and his wife, Flo, are sole owners of all three ventures.

A labor of love

Of all the jobs that Lyle has held, he says there’s one thing he is above all else – and it fits right in with his purchase of Crisp Motorsports Park.

“I’m a builder. I like to create things, including businesses. I’m a lot more interested in building something than I am in actually running or operating it. Although someday, I hope Crisp Motorsports Park might be something special. For me, a racing enthusiast, it’s more a labor of love.”

At age 69, Lyle still suits up and races Super Street Late Model cars.

“Everybody needs a hobby,” he explains. “Some guys like golf. Some like tennis. Some like to boat. For me, it’s racing. I own cars and race at this track, which has a great history but has fallen on some tough times. Interest in racing has declined in recent years here in Georgia, and I think that’s unfortunate because it’s a great sport and can be great family fun. I want to do my part to try to help give racing, and this track in particular, a boost. I think it will also be good for the entire community of Cordele.”

The track history that Lyle refers to includes some of the biggest names in the sport. NASCAR drivers Joey Logano and David Ragan, and 2014 NASCAR Xfinity Series champion Chase Elliott, all learned to drive at the four-tenthsof- a-mile, banked, D-shape oval track. NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champions Kyle Busch and Jeff Gordon have also raced at the track. Today, Watermelon Capital Speedway is the last asphalt track in Georgia, other than Atlanta Motor Speedway.

The 100-acre property located just off I-75 north of Cordele needed updating. Lyle and his Lyle Farms employees, many of whom share his interest in racing, have been addressing those needs by building a number of new structures, including a ticket office and restrooms. They are also cleaning up the area outside the track to build a campground, complete with RV hookups. Lyle’s intention is to stage other events such as RV shows, farm equipment shows and auto swap meets at the property.

The marquee event each year at the Crisp Motorsports Park is SpeedFest, a Champion Racing Association-sanctioned race that typically brings in a field of about 60 cars, including as many as a half-dozen NASCAR drivers. The 2016 SpeedFest is scheduled for the end of January, and Lyle hopes to have most – if not all – of the new facilities ready to go for it.

“We’re looking for better attendance and more sponsors,” said Lyle. “We want to make this place successful, not just for us, but for the betterment of the area and the sport.”

“Well-made” Komatsu machines

To do the cleanup and building at the track and on the farm, Lyle relies primarily on a fleet of Komatsu machines from Tractor & Equipment Company’s Albany branch and VP/Regional Sales Manager Tony Daughtry. Lyle’s Komatsu machines include three wheel loaders (WA320, WA380 and WA500), two dozers (D61 and D58), two excavators (PC400 and PC200) and an HM300 articulated dump truck.

“When I started farming here, I got a Komatsu D51 dozer,” Lyle recalled. “I liked it, and I was happy with the service I received from Tony and Tractor & Equipment Company. We’ve just kept adding to the Komatsu fleet since then. I’m an engineer by education and by profession, so I appreciate a well-made machine. Komatsu products are definitely well-made.”

Although he may not put as many hours on his equipment annually as a construction company does, Lyle says he wants the same thing out of his machines that a contractor does – productivity, reliability and longevity.

“My PC400 has in excess of 6,000 hours on it and still runs great. I traded my original D51 in for a D61, and it’s been an outstanding machine. It’s very maneuverable, nice to drive and extremely comfortable. Since I still do some operating, comfort is important to me. I can sit in the D61 all day and do all the things I would do from my office. That’s pretty much true of all my Komatsu pieces. The HM300 also has a very impressive cab.

“What I like best about all of our Komatsu machines is that I can take one to a job, turn the key and go to work,” he added. “They’re pretty much trouble-free. Nobody owns equipment because they want to work on it. They want it to work for them, and that’s what our Komatsu machines do.”

Lyle says he also appreciates the support he receives from TEC.

“TEC does a great job with the financing side of equipment purchasing, and the service we get from them has been very good. Their field technicians are knowledgeable and easy to work with. They have some young people who know the equipment, especially the electronics, which is big today. Tony has also been very responsive to our needs.”

Still building and creating

Lyle sometimes talks as though he’s slowing down. For example, in discussing Lyle Farms he said, “I’m very happy being a pecan farmer, and really, I consider myself more of an overseer of farming.” Regarding his plans for Crisp Motorsports Park, he said, “I don’t know how many more things I’m going to build.”

But Lyle’s actions do not indicate he is ready to stop being a builder/creator anytime soon. He is, what he calls, a “small partner” in Cordele Intermodal Services, which is a rail-based connection to the Savannah port. He also acknowledges he is part of a group that is considering building a fertilizer plant in the region within the next year or so. “It will be a younger group than me, but I may be involved in the engineering work and some of the construction.

“I guess it comes down to the fact that retirement, as it’s viewed by many people, doesn’t really interest me,” he added. “Both Flo and I feel good, and we like being involved. I think this area has a lot going for it. I think it’s going to grow and become a hub in southwestern Georgia. We want to do what we can to help make that happen and be a part of it when it does.”