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Charlotte leaders want test track for NASCAR

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Charlotte leaders want test track for NASCAR

Black likes $50 million idea

By David Rice

JOURNAL RALEIGH BUREAU

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Aug. 3, 2003

Revving Up to stay in the lead

Legislators, motorsports backers join forces to keep profitable auto-racing industry from leaving the state

RALEIGH

Charlotte-area business leaders want the state to spend $50 million to build a test track near Lowe's Motor Speedway to help keep and attract NASCAR race teams, and a co-speaker of the N.C. House endorsed the idea yesterday.

"That is an industry that a lot of states are really showing a lot of interest in right now. I think we have a window of opportunity," Democratic Co-Speaker Jim Black said. Black said that South Carolina might try to attract racing teams through a new automotive program at Clemson University.

"We have a lot of stock-car companies in North Carolina. And from what we hear from people in that industry, they don't want to travel very far (for testing)," Black said. "We have an opportunity to capture that industry, and I don't think we want to miss that."

Some skeptics already question why the state should reward a successful industry that has moved races out of North Carolina or why the state must build a new test track when a track sits idle in North Wilkesboro.

"No. 1, this is a profitable industry. And it's not clear why a subsidy is justified," said John Hood, the president of the conservative John Locke Foundation.

"It's also ironic at least that the major player in the North Carolina motorsports industry - Speedway Motorsports - has already moved the North Wilkesboro race to Texas and they appear to be in the midst of purchasing the Rockingham track and moving that race to Texas," Hood said. "So this would reward a company that has been moving business out of state."

The push for the test track comes from leaders of the Charlotte Regional Partnership and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, which has a motorsports-engineering program.

Michael Almond, the president of the Charlotte Regional Partnership, said yesterday that the state has at least 400 racing teams, and 90 percent of the state's NASCAR teams are within 30 miles of Lowe's Motor Speedway in Concord.

NASCAR limits the number of days that teams can test vehicles on NASCAR-sanctioned tracks, Almond said, and the closest nonsanctioned test track is in Kentucky.

"It turns out that testing and this sort of thing is a big, big issue," he said. "It's become a real grind for them.

"The teams are telling us, 'There are many things you could do for us, but the one thing that is essential for us is to build a test track that would allow full-speed NASCAR testing within 30 miles of Lowe's Motor Speedway,'" he said.

Racing teams want the test track to be at least 11/2 miles long, the minimum length for super speedways, Almond said.

The site would have to be at least 150 acres, he said, and officials expect whichever county is chosen for the track to donate land for it - a requirement that Almond said probably rules out Mecklenburg County. Cabarrus, Iredell, Rowan, Stanly and perhaps Anson counties have sites within the 30-mile radius, he said.

Even with donated land, though, the track is expected to cost $35 million; offices and garages would cost $10 million; and instrumentation and testing equipment would cost $5 million, Almond said.

Almond said that the test track could help keep race teams in the region and attract more, as well as helping UNC Charlotte's engineering program and possibly attracting Formula One racing to the state. It could also serve to attract more of the automotive industry to North Carolina, he said.

The test track would be owned by a nonprofit organization that has a loose affiliation with UNC Charlotte, he said, but it would not be owned by the university.

Virginia already has designated the Hampton Roads area for motorsports development, he said.

And even though the new center at Clemson is aimed to help the conventional automotive industry, "We regard that as sort of a first step to possibly recruit our teams away, so there is real urgency here," he said.

"NASCAR has become a national sport, not just a regional sport," he said. With the sport's growing popularity nationwide, "There are centrifugal forces in effect, and that's why we have to act quickly."

As for why the testing couldn't be done at the track in North Wilkesboro, "It doesn't meet either of the criteria" Almond said. "It's not within 30 miles of the Lowe's Motor Speedway. And it's too short - it's a half-mile track."

The existing track would have to be torn down, he said.

The state could help pay for the test track with bonds or with spending over several years from its general fund, he said. "This track's not going to get built in one year," Almond said.

Or officials could turn to the Golden LEAF Foundation, which receives half of the state's tobacco settlement. Almond is a member of the foundation's board.

But Hood, for one, still questions whether the state can afford a NASCAR test track as it climbs out of recession.

"There's just the basic issue of priorities. If state taxpayers are going to pony up for this, where's it going to come from in a fiscal year that will still feature significant budget pressures?" he said.

"I think this is beyond just unwise. It's beyond just unjustified. It's bizarre that this conversation is even happening in a budget year like this."

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I'll have to agree with you monsoon, I dont think its going to happen. The state didnt even contribute a dime to Charlotte's uptown arena. The state is already in a financial crunch as it is.

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Oh my, so Charlotte stands up to George Shinn & tells him that the taxpayers won't fund another arena but asks everyone in the state to buy another race track that won't even have races? That is one crazy request, somehow I think NASCAR & sponsors might find $50 million somewhere. But then they'll play the, "we would love to build it here but SC will build it for free" routine.

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I think nascar should build it. If the state has collected to many taxes I would like to see them spend it on mass transit or simply return the money to the taxpayers.

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So how long before we build a NASCAR Hall of Fame Uptown? Seriously, we gotta jump on this idea before some other city does. NASCAR is getting huge, and to be home to its HOF would be a great tourist attraction.

I just hope Charlotte gets this done before some other city comes along and steals the idea.

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No, that's the NC Auto Racing Hall of Fame, very different, and not nearly the tourist attraction that a NASCAR HOF could become. Seriously, Toronto has the NHL Hall of Fame, and it's an incredible gem for that city, a hockey mecca. We are the NASCAR Mecca, so we should have the NASCAR HOF.

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But then they'll play the, "we would love to build it here but SC will build it for free" routine.

Greenville's ICAR site would probably be interested in this type of development.

What's funny is that SC would probably give so many taxbreaks and other incentives that it would be essentially free.

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That might be true, but they were just in Nashville last week to see how Nashville incorporates its country music image into its urban fabric. Charlotte leaders are looking for an image, and that just might be the one to go with.

And I think the association between redneck and Nascar is fading. Nascar is really becoming quite mainstream and popular across the country.

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It is a nice idea but I agree that I don't see the leaders in Charlotte endorsing it. When was the last time that anyone has seen Pat McCroy being involved in one of the races at the track. A nice start would be for him to drive the Pace car of something such as that, but I get the impression that he has never even been to Lowes Motor Speedway.

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That's a shame. NASCAR is a cash cow. Too bad the city leaders can't see through the stereotypes for the sake of the incredible revenue something like that could generate.

I just had a relative in town (my wife's sister's husband, specifically), and he was extatic about seeing Lowe's Motor Speedway, DEI, and the Nascar speedpark at Concord Mills. Mind you he's from the Bronx, yet he didn't look down on it as being some kind of redneck entertainment. Nascar is really catching on, and I think it is a mistake if the city doesn't jump on the bandwagon soon enough.

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