By Eric C. Deines
Less than one year ago, Speedway Motorsports President Bruton Smith met with economic officials to discuss his vision for a high-end drag strip at Lowe’s Motor Speedway.
On Wednesday — just 363 days later — drag race cars were speeding down the strip to “cut the ribbon” at the $60 million dragway’s dedication.
Officials have repeatedly called the zMAX Dragway @ Concord the “Bellagio of drag strips,” referring to the swank Las Vegas hotel.
Drag racing insiders backed up that claim about the facility, on which the speedway broke ground in February.
“It really is,” said Bob Doerrer, with the National Hot Rod Association team Terminator Motorsports. “First, it’s the location. This is the best spot in the world. They have (drag strips) in Bristol and Sonoma. They’re spectacular, but this is unbelievable.”
In three weeks, beginning Sept. 11, the drag strip will host the NHRA Nationals as its first event.
Bruton Smith thanked the SMI’s construction officials who helped fast-track the project for the race, and referenced USA Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps.
“All this takes concrete and steel — but it also takes people,” Smith said. “If I can get Michael Phelps to release some of his gold, I’m going to try and get you one each. This is such a historical moment in my life to get this development built in such a short period of time.”
According to a release from the speedway, 363,000 man hours over a six-month period, with 300 workers on-site per day, were needed to complete the project.
The state-of-the-art facility features the only all-concrete, four-lane drag strip in the country.
“Now, we are solidifying ourselves as the true epicenter of motor sports in the United States,” said Concord Mayor Scott Padgett.
In October 2007, Concord City Council voted to block the construction of the drag strip as a means to address concerns about noise created by drag racing in relation to the neighborhoods located just a half-mile from the drag strip.
Council’s vote started a skirmish with Smith, who said he would take his racing business completely out of Concord.
To retain Smith’s facilities, Concord reversed its decision, and with Cabarrus County, committed to an $80 million incentive package to make infrastructure improvements around the speedway.
The proposed improvements include a realignment of both Bruton Smith Boulevard — renamed for Smith during the skirmish — and Morehead Road.
While the incentive agreement is still in the works, Concord and the county plan to share $60 million of the incentives, with the state picking up $20 million.
Based on the city’s initial noise concerns, the drag strip comes complete with noise abatement structures above and beyond that of an average drag strip.
Was Harris, senior vice president of speedway development and operations for SMI, said the dragway has a wall at the top of the grandstands, walls on two sides of the main tower and a walls at along the race strip similar to that of an interstate wall that will block noise created during races.
“None of that would be there at a normal drag strip,” Harris said.
He said the speedway will have sound engineers in the surrounding neighborhoods during the first NHRA races to test noise levels.
“We can still add more if needed,” Harris said.
On Saturday, the drag strip will play host to an open house for the public to see the speedway. On-hand will be activities for families and NHRA drivers.
The first 200 guests to register will also be able to drive down the quarter-mile strip in street-legal drag cars.
NHRA President Tom Compton said Concord’s facility was the “finest facility” he’s ever seen.
“I don’t know of another organization…in motor sports that could have pulled this off,” he said.
• Contact Eric C. Deines: 704-789-9141.