From Kentucky Public Radio’s Tony McVeigh
Legislation aimed at helping bring a NASCAR Sprint Cup race to northern Kentucky is off to a fast start in the 2009 General Assembly.
In 1998, northern Kentucky businessman Jerry Carroll and four other investors started purchasing farmland near Sparta, where they built a 162-million dollar racetrack. They called the one-and-half-mile tri-oval, which opened in June 2000, the Kentucky Speedway. Their ultimate goal was to attract a NASCAR Sprint Cup race, the pinnacle of stock car races in America. But by 2005, the disillusioned owners were suing NASCAR for conspiring to restrict the Kentucky track from acquiring a NASCAR Cup race.
Federal Judge William Bertlesman ruled NASCAR never promised Kentucky a Cup Series date and dismissed the lawsuit. It’s still on appeal, and NASCAR says it won’t even consider a Kentucky race date until the case is resolved.
In the meantime, Kentucky Speedway has been purchased by Speedway Motorsports, Inc., or SMI, which owns seven racetracks that host NASCAR Sprint Cup Series events. With the purchase, the company can move a Sprint Cup date from one of its existing tracks to Kentucky if it so desires. That’s exactly what SMI has in mind, and hopes the state will help them achieve the goal by providing some tax incentives to improve the Kentucky track. An incentives bill is sponsored by House Majority Leader Rocky Adkins.
“We are, with this piece of legislation, able to go back with a new owner who has the ability to hopefully bring a premier race – a nationally televised event – to Kentucky,” Adkins said.
Attorney Mark Guilfoyle represents Speedway Motorsports, Inc:
“What we’re laying here before you in House Bill 521, is an incentive package. It’s the only thing that the new owner has asked for, to give him the ability to justify, how can I move a race from one of my other tracks to Kentucky.”
Guilfoyle says SMI chairman Bruton Smith is prepared to spend upward of 70-million dollars to improve the track, if the state will help offset some of the costs.
“If the new owner doesn’t bring the Sprint Cup race to Kentucky, the Commonwealth is not out one dime. So, this is truly an incentive to have this company bring a race to Kentucky.”
The prospect excites Beshear administration officials, who wholeheartedly back the incentives package. Cabinet Secretary Larry Hayes says he and Governor Beshear recently toured SMI racetracks in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Bristol, Tennessee, and were enthralled by what they saw.
“People move in with campers and there is a virtual city that is built up around that, that people for up to a week, spend their time, and what they call the trash and trinkets is the category of some of the items that vendors set up around, and the numbers that were quoted to us, it’s incredible,” Hayes said.
He says one Sprint Cup race alone could have a $200 million economic impact on northern Kentucky. He, Rep. Adkins and Mark Guilfoyle all testified this week before the House Appropriations and Revenue committee, where the incentives package was warmly received. In fact, it passed 25-1, after a rousing pep talk from Rep. Keith Hall, who told his colleagues he would walk from Phelps to Warsaw to witness a Sprint Cup race.
“And you take this message back to NASCAR. Us old rednecks in the hills, we’ll come in groves. The Hillbilly Highway, we’ll hit it. And we’ll be there to watch that race if you can bring it to Kentucky”
The incentives package, which is an extension and expansion of the package provided to the original owners of the racetrack, now moves to the House floor. The measure would allow SMI, through sales tax revenue, to recoup 25-percent of expansion costs over a 20-year period.