While race fans wait to see if Bruton Smith will move Lowe's Motor Speedway from Concord, another big question is whether the drag strip that triggered his dispute with the city actually would cost $60 million to build.
At that budget, the proposed strip would by far be the most expensive such raceway ever built in the U.S. Most strips proposed in recent years had price tags of $10 million to $15 million. The most expensive strip to date cost less than $30 million.
Although Speedway Motorsports, with Smith as chairman and CEO, would pay to build the strip, the amount of investment helps determine how much in government incentives the project could get from Concord and Cabarrus County.
City and county officials have discussed incentives in an effort to keep Smith from closing Lowe's -- a threat made after the City Council on Oct. 1 voted to ban the drag strip, seeking more information about how noise would affect nearby residents.
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City leaders have since reversed their stance, and a vote to undo the drag-strip ban is scheduled for tonight. Yet Smith hasn't publicly budged from last week's statement that there's a 90 percent chance he'll close Lowe's and build a $350 million speedway elsewhere in the region.
Buried in the brouhaha is the cost of the proposed strip -- more than three times what Speedway Motorsports spent on other drag strips, and twice as much as what one architect said is the most expensive such track ever built.
"Honestly, it'd be hard to spend that much," said Paxton Waters, who is based in Indiana and has designed several race tracks. "Sixty million sounds like an incredible amount of money."
But Smith, Waters added, "kind of works with different numbers than other people."
In recent years, drag-strip construction has ranged from $5 million for regional tracks to almost $30 million for a racing complex built 10 years ago in Joliet, Ill., near Chicago.
The Route 66 Raceway includes a half-mile dirt oval track along with its quarter-mile drag strip, which holds two National Hot Rod Association races -- the same class of races Smith hopes to host in Concord. Lowe's already has a dirt oval.
Route 66 has 30,000 stadium seats and 27 luxury suites in a four-story grandstand. Its Web site touts the strip as the first "Stadium of Drag Racing."
"It really raised the level of the facilities," said Timothy Frost, an Illinois-based motorsports consultant.
Smith is credited with creating high-quality drag strips in Bristol, Tenn., and Las Vegas. Both host NHRA races, as does Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif., another Speedway Motorsports track.
But the Bristol and Las Vegas strips each cost less than $20 million to build, and it's unclear how construction costs at Lowe's would add up to $60 million.
Smith didn't return calls Wednesday and was out of town Thursday. Jerry Gappens, a spokesman for Lowe's Motor Speedway, said he hasn't seen a breakdown of the $60 million figure or any design plans, and that Speedway Motorsports hasn't ever publicly itemized construction costs for other projects.
But paying a premium to build top-notch facilities isn't unprecedented, Gappens said. The dirt track at Lowe's cost $15 million, he said, making it one of the most expensive in the U.S.
City and county incentives considered for Speedway Motorsports could be worth up to $2.4 million, but Cabarrus County's top economic development official said those breaks would apply to more than the drag strip.
Officials typically work with a company to develop an incentive plan based on a specific investment amount, said John Cox, president of Cabarrus Economic Development. The company pays property taxes just like anyone else, then gets a rebate based on the incentive plan over a certain period, such as five years.
If the amount invested falls short of the plan, Cox said, the tax breaks are reduced.
But, Cox stressed, incentives now on the table would be not only for the $60 million drag strip but also for roughly $200 million in renovations and upgrades to Lowe's Motor Speedway, which Smith says are necessary for the track to remain one of NASCAR's best.
As for the drag-strip cost, Lowe's already owns the proposed site, but new construction could require infrastructure improvements. Smith also may want more seats and suites than at other strips, and Frost said a 30,000-seat strip with 20 suites could range from $30 million to as much as $50 million.
Other construction costs, though, are largely fixed.
"The track itself and the lighting don't change," Waters said.
Some in the racing industry say no amount of amenities could add up to $60 million.
But Waters said Smith's history of investing heavily in race venues can't be ignored.
"He doesn't tend to cut corners," Waters said.