NASCAR & Auto Racing

Fast track to court for drag strip?

Lowe's Motor Speedway owner Bruton Smith said Concord leaders have given him so little support, he'd like to redraw the city limits.

"Is there an amount of money we can pay them to secede from them?" Smith said Thursday.

Smith, chairman of Speedway Motorsports, said he will sue Concord if the city tries to stop him from building a drag strip at his massive motorsports complex on the Mecklenburg County line.

In fact, Smith said, he started grading land for the $60 million facility late last week, though he hasn't applied for a permit to start construction.

Concord Mayor Scott Padgett and other city officials didn't know about the construction until an Observer reporter told them Thursday.

"He's grading it?" Margaret Pearson, Concord's development services director, asked incredulously.

Smith said he expects to have events at the drag strip in April. A spokesman said crews already have started staking out the race course.

Smith's comments came days before a special meeting of Concord leaders set for Monday. Since Smith announced plans for the drag strip in August, some have questioned whether it would bring noise and polluting fumes to nearby homes and businesses.

The strip would be closer to hundreds of nearby homes and businesses than other racing facilities at the complex.

Council members might change the definition of the zoning on Smith's property to specifically exclude drag racing.

Smith said his lawyers would challenge that because he has already started building.

But Concord's city attorney, Al Benshoff, said, "That's an interesting concept, but that's not the law."

Technically, grading isn't necessarily considered construction, so the city might not regulate it. But Smith's comments may have forced the issue of building without a permit.

"He seems to be admitting that he is," Padgett said.

Speedway officials successfully urged Concord to annex the track in 1987, a move that allowed beer and wine sales there.

"Now it's turned out (annexation) was a mistake," Smith said in an interview Thursday. "We should have fought that rather than invited that."

The mayor bristled at that suggestion.

"I certainly don't appreciate that, especially after all we've done to support the speedway," Padgett said.

Concord's city motto rings of racing: "High Performance Living." But the dispute harks back to a 2004 shouting match between Smith and Mecklenburg County leaders over hundreds of trees the speedway bulldozed to build a parking lot on the Charlotte side of the county line.

Smith said then that Tom Cox, who was chairman of the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners, had "some kind of a mental problem."

Now Smith is saying Concord's City Council ought to be behind him, since Cabarrus County is losing jobs from textile and other plant closings and the outside takeover of three locally based employers.

"Sometimes people, they want to be against anything," Smith said.

Padgett shot back.

"We were supporting racing and the racing industry before it was fashionable," he said. "For Mr. Smith to claim otherwise is just dead wrong."