NASCAR & Auto Racing

NASCAR will wait and see on Concord speedway flap, Brian France says

The dust-up over a proposed drag strip at Lowe's Motor Speedway involves plenty of people -- not only speedway owner Bruton Smith and Concord city leaders, but also business recruiters and real estate brokers in other counties.

It doesn't, however, involve NASCAR, the organization's top boss said Friday.

Despite the possibility that Lowe's -- one of racing's most prominent and popular venues -- could be replaced by another speedway, NASCAR chief executive Brian France said he doesn't plan to get involved in what he considers a local dispute.

"I'm not familiar with all the issues," Brian France said. "They'll figure out what they need to do."

France, NASCAR's chairman and chief executive, was in Charlotte to appear on CNBC's "Power Lunch" program.

The visit capped a week that began with Concord officials changing the zoning for the proposed drag strip because of potential noise for nearby residents. The next day, a defiant Smith said he might build another speedway elsewhere in the region, leading to several land offers -- including a public overture from Rowan County officials, just north of Cabarrus.

Finding a large piece of land near major highways could be difficult and expensive. But Smith said Friday that his office has received 15 to 20 offers, that he has visited three potential sites, and that his representatives have visited several others.

"We're being offered a lot of land," he said. "It's amazing."

Although Lowe's Motor Speedway has about 2,000 acres, Smith said he could build a new track on as little as 500 acres. As for location, he said it should be about the same distance from Charlotte/Douglas International Airport as Lowe's -- roughly 20 miles.

Possible move's implications

A new speedway could mean a new location for NASCAR races, but France said he hasn't discussed the possible move with Smith or anyone at Speedway Motorsports, which owns Lowe's and five other tracks that host Nextel Cup races.Races at Lowe's and other Speedway Motorsports tracks are governed by sanctioning agreements that the company negotiates each year with NASCAR. If Smith builds another Charlotte-area speedway, races now at Lowe's would shift to the new track unless Lowe's was sold to another potential operator or someone else built another track in the market -- both unlikely.

France said NASCAR is happy with Lowe's, where the first race was held in 1960. While Lowe's is among NASCAR's older tracks, France said a speedway's age isn't a concern "as long as they're making facility upgrades."

Smith said NASCAR would be updated on any new speedway plans. "Certainly before we do anything, I'll talk to Brian," he said. "I have over $2 billion invested in this sport. I'm not going to do anything to hurt it."

As for the company whose name is on the speedway, Lowe's -- the home-improvement store chain based in Mooresville -- paid $35 million in 1999 for naming rights over 10 years. Because that contract doesn't expire until 2009, Lowe's officials haven't given much thought to the Smith-Concord dispute, a company spokeswoman said Friday.

"We can't speculate on what (Smith) might choose to do and what it might mean to us down the road," Chris Ahearn said. "We're just watching."

Dispute in Concord

As the familiar "Welcome Race Fans" signs began going up Friday in Concord, local tourism officials sent the City Council a letter showing the hospitality industry's support for a quick, amicable resolution to the squabble.

A previously scheduled Monday meeting of the Cabarrus County Tourism Authority Board has been expanded to include county economic development and chamber of commerce officials. DeSales Wagster, head of the county's convention and visitors bureau, said she takes Smith's talk of leaving Concord very seriously.

"I'm not going to take a chance it may not be a real threat," she said. "It's a very grave situation."

Elected officials were quieter Friday, putting on a good face for the Nextel Cup race Saturday.

In a statement released Friday morning, Concord Mayor Scott Padgett said city officials will try to resolve the dispute with Smith in the upcoming weeks but won't comment on it until after the Bank of America 500.

"However," Padgett wrote, "during this time, we will continue to explore all avenues of compromise with the Speedway in order to protect their business interests and the personal needs of our citizens."

Smith declined to say whether he had spoken with Padgett on Friday, although he said he had spoken with "people connected with the city."

As for a compromise, Smith said has hasn't done anything to address potential noise concerns from the drag strip because he's not sure the council's rezoning vote on Monday was legal.

"We don't believe there's a problem," he said. "We were zoned, period."

Another solution that may be less expensive than building a new speedway could be buying neighbors' homes. But Smith said that won't happen on principle because homeowners knew they would be living near a speedway.

"No," he said, "we're not going to do that." .