If You Were Bruton Smith, Why Wouldn’t You Plow Under Lowes Motor Speedway?

Charlotte, NC – If you were Bruton Smith, why wouldn?t you plow under Lowes Motor Speedway and build a new speedway in the Charlotte, NC area?

As far-fetched as that concept seems, it came closer to reality last week as Smith threatened to pull up stakes and close the famed 1.5-mile oval, moving to a new location after Cabarrus County officials shut down construction of a drag strip at the current 2,000 acre site. Citing potential excessive noise from drag strip, local residents convinced the Concord City Council to change the zoning in the area to ban drag strips.

Smith, who had already begun grading for a new facility, is said to already have a National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) date for next spring and was forced to stop construction of the estimated $60 million facility because of the ruling. A very public exchange of comments then played out in the local media before Smith indicated it might be time to move.

And why not?

The ground breaking Lowes track with its condos and glass sided business tower, is starting to show its age. Opened in 1960, much of the facility is in need of a facelift, a $200 million dollar exercise according to Smith. If you take that same money, front load it and a pile of more cash into a new, state of the art track, wouldn?t you be better off?

Especially if you can build what you want without interference from local residents and politicians?

Smith has indicated the process to build a new track would only take 11 months. He would basically gut the current Lowes track, disassembling many latest improvements taking them with him to defer some of the cost of the new track. He could leave behind the Smith Tower office building and twin condo complexes ? the perfect anchors for a new housing/business development on the sprawling site.

Don?t think Mr. Smith hasn?t already calculated how many times he can subdivide the 2,000 acre facility. We have to wonder how all that extra traffic and general 24/7/365 congestion will sit with the same people who are now crying about the additional noise a drag strip would create a couple of weekends a year?

With the $200 million in his pocket from the repairs he doesn?t have to make to the current Lowes track and buckets more from subdividing the property, Smith would have more than enough cash to build a new track. Not that cash flow is a problem for Smith, who has said to be among the richest people in the country with an estimated worth of $1.5 billion dollars.

Smith?s threat to move was greeted with surprise and skepticism in the Charlotte area. That is until he was offered a 600-acre site in nearby Rowan County and another unspecified site later in the week. If Concord and Cabarrus County don?t want the millions of dollars in tourist and tax revenue generated by the speedway, you can be sure someone else will.

Will Lowes Motor Speedway become a relic of the past, much like the old Charlotte Speedway, host of the first-ever NASCAR ?Strictly Stock? race in 1949?

Probably not. At least not right away.

Infrastructure for a new track would include building roads, sewage and drainage components, and parking for crowds upwards of 150,000. That would take time. But Smith, an innovator in speedway design, would like nothing better than to build yet another benchmark raceway ? maybe another Bristol, or a three-quarter mile oval ? not another cookie cutter 1.5-mile track like those based on the original Lowes Motor Speedway model that now overpopulate the schedule.

How about a Bristol-like experience with the latest in fan amenities like his Neon Garage concept at Las Vegas ?complete with moving fan walks, condos, business offices and anything else he and his team can come up with?

It?s not that farfetched at all ? and it could be a reality by the 2009 season.

Stay tuned, this story is far from seeing its final chapter.

The Rock Survives

While Smith is considering closing one track, another ? North Carolina Motor Speedway, or ?The Rock ? was saved by the wrecking ball this weekend when veteran racer and driving school proprietor Andy Hillenburg purchased the Rockingham, NC facility.

Hillenburg hopes to revive the raceway with a yet-to-be determined (ARCA?) event next season. He will also base his driving school activities at the 1.017-mile oval. It is hoped both the NASCAR Busch and Craftsman Truck Series will eventually compete at the track, but that won?t happen for at least a year as both divisions have already finalized their 2008 schedules.

The purchase of the Rock by Hillenburg was greeted with optimism by almost all in the garage area at Talladega this weekend. Always a favorite with drivers and teams, the Rock needed to be saved and Hillenburg stepping in to do so made him very popular in the paddock and on top of the spotter?s stand at Talladega.

Here?s hoping Hillenburg can pull it off and return Rockingham to the ranks of a NASCAR sanctioned speedway someday.

Talladega Nights

Without a doubt, Talladega has the most wide-open party scene on the circuit. The infield and campground around the track were awash with beer and beads Friday and Saturday nights as thousands of fans staged an R-rated party until the sun came up.

Noted for its wide-open festival of food, drink and adult fun, we can?t ever remember a facility having more campers than Talladega. In or out of the track, it?s a sea of tents, trailers and motorhomes. Why wouldn’t you?

There?s not exactly anything close to the track ? our hotel was in Attalla was nearly 45 miles and an hour drive from the raceway. And camping surely has to be cheaper. On Wednesday, our Days Inn hotel room was $60. Thursday, it jumped to $90 and Friday through Sunday, it was $150 a night. All for a room that was an hour from the track and worth about $40 on a good night.

Along with a party for the ages, it?s no wonder why fans line up for miles to be a part of the Talladega camping experience. It?s something every NASCAR fan should see at least once. Just make sure you leave the kids at home.

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