After nearly two months of waiting, officials and businesses finally got word from Lowe’s Motor Speedway owner Bruton Smith that he will keep the track in Concord, and has plans for significant improvements
By Eric C. Deines
CONCORD — Using $80 million from local and state governments and $200 million of his own money, Lowe’s Motor Speedway owner Bruton Smith said he will make the Concord track the world’s premiere racing facility.
However, only a handful of the projects included in the major improvements were discussed at a news conference Monday to celebrate Smith’s agreement with Concord and Cabarrus County to keep the speedway in Concord.
|WHAT WE KNOW: • Speedway Motorsports CEO Bruton Smith said he would have a drag strip complete at Lowe’s Motor Speedway for a September National Hot Rod Association event. • Speedway Motorsports will invest $200 million toward improvement to Lowe’s Motor Speedway. • Concord and Cabarrus County will each contribute $30 million for improvements to roads around the Speedway. • Smith said North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley confirmed the state’s commitment to $20 million in incentives for projects surrounding the speedway. • Infrastructure projects at the top of the list for the government incentives include the realignment of Morehead Road, the realignment or widening of the soon-to-be Bruton Smith Boulevard (currently Speedway Boulevard) and replacement of the Rocky River Bridge. • Twenty-five Kannapolis City Schools students who submitted “letters of love” to express feelings about the speedway were selected to receive individual checks for $1,000. • Officials from as far away as Portland, Ore., made offers to become the new home of Lowe’s Motor Speedway.|
Smith’s decision — announced last week — comes after nearly two months of uncertainty as to whether or not Smith would move the track when he and the city clashed on his plans to build a $60 million drag strip at the speedway.
On Monday, Smith, CEO of Speedway Motorsports, said there were no hard feelings on the matter.
“Mayor, I’ll tell you, we’re here forever,” Smith assured Concord Mayor Scott Padgett midway through the meeting. “It’s going to be onward and upward.”
Smith said work resumed today on the drag strip, and that it will be completed for a National Hot Rod Association event in Sept. 2008.
Padgett and Cabarrus County Commission Chairman Bob Carruth said the major road improvements surrounding the track have not been finalized.
However, Padgett said the most significant of the projects include:
• the realignment of Morehead Road to open up a merchandising area next to the speedway;
• the realignment or widening of the soon-to-be Bruton Smith Boulevard (currently Speedway Boulevard); and
• the replacement of the Rocky River Bridge.
A few times during Monday’s meeting, Smith commented on the desperate need for a replacement of the Rocky River Bridge.
In total, $80 million will be offered by the city, county and state to make improvements. Officials have said that the funds may come from an increased transportation sales tax.
Concord and Cabarrus have each agreed to contribute $60 million. And Smith said he received confirmation from North Carolina Governor Mike Easley that the state would commit $20 million toward the improvements.
Carruth said a portion of county and city’s contribution will also be used for noise abatement structures around the drag strip that have been estimated at $2 million.
In October, Concord City Council voted to block Smith’s drag strip project, citing unknowns about how noise would affect the nearby subdivisions. Soon after, Smith said he was 90 percent sure he would move the track.
However, Smith said Monday as community support came forth for the speedway in Concord, his assuredness that he would leave began to dwindle.
“I didn’t report to the media that it was shrinking,” Smith said.
He said speedway engineers have been at work on a master plan for the facility for over a year that will reclaim the speedway’s reputation as the best racing facility in the country.
Both Padgett and Carruth said they had seen schematics of the speedway’s upgrade plans and were impressed.
Padgett said all the planned improvements may take seven years to complete, but that they would bring a new era of motor sports for the city.
“This new era means nobody can touch us,” Padgett said. “To the new investment — bring it on. To the new track — bring it on.”
• Contact Eric C. Deines: 704-789-9141