Auto racing fans rally at bar After 2 failed efforts, speedway proponents aim for Pasadena

March 15, 1998|By Laura Sullivan | Laura Sullivan,SUN STAFF

After facing the wrath of hundreds of angry residents at community meetings in Baltimore County and southern Anne Arundel County, racetrack supporters now hoping to put a proposed speedway in Pasadena tried a new approach yesterday: They threw a party.

With a markedly different tone than last month's racetrack protest in southern Anne Arundel, 200 auto racing fans from the Baltimore region showed up in good spirits yesterday afternoon at Cactus Cantina, a country and western bar near the Baltimore-Washington International Airport, to look at a race car, win raffle prizes and get organized.

But by the end of the day, the party didn't seem to work its hoped-for magic. Local residents, sounding like those in

Baltimore and southern Anne Arundel counties, said they felt blindsided by the lack of information they have received and offended by not being invited to the party.

R.A.C.E. F.A.N.S. -- an acronym for Racing Advocates Committed Exclusively for Approval of New Speedway -- threw the party and invited 7,000 county residents with a flier inserted inside the Penny Saver, a local coupon book. But no Pasadena residents received a flyer.

Organizers said they were trying to reach a broader base of residents and were limited in the number of fliers they could afford to distribute. They said the partywas to organize possible fans.

Pasadena community leader Carolyn Roeding said it is insulting to seek support for putting the track in Pasadena without first addressing residents. No community leader has been approached about building a racetrack. "What did they think -- we wouldn't find out?" asked Roeding, president of the Greater Pasadena Council. "The impact on this community is going to be unbelievable. We're talking about more people than the entire residential population of the peninsula.

"Don't try to sell us something with a spin of how wonderful it is without even presenting it to the community first," she said. "We have been excluded and are very concerned."

That feeling was not visible inside Cactus Cantina, where fans from at least three counties, many in racing jackets and hats, posed questions to track officials and discussed how best to get county approval for the speedway.

"We need to present ourselves as professional and organized," said Anne Arundel Councilman Thomas W. Redmond Sr., honorary chairman of the group. "This is going to come down to needing everybody's support."

Officials with the Middle River Racing Association, the company proposing to build the racetrack, changed their focus last week to the Pasadena site -- the state-owned Kennecott Copper refinery site near Fort Smallwood and Kembo roads -- and said yesterday they were no longer seriously considering the southern Anne Arundel site in Russett.

When the group tried to build the track in Baltimore County's White Marsh area last year, local residents rebelled, fearing noise, traffic and air pollution.

Despite concerns expressed by many nearby community association presidents, Redmond said he does not believe there is a lot of opposition from Pasadena residents, his constituents.

"I got all kinds of letters from people in Russett saying 'Stick it in your neighborhood in Pasadena,' " he told the crowd. "Well, I had no idea. I'm very excited. This site is looking better and better."

Many Pasadena civic associations plan to hold meetings in the next several weeks to gauge support for the track. Racing officials said they would go to the meetings if invited.

Middle River Racing president Edward Berge said the group has secured from private investors the $100 million needed to build the 54,800-seat auto racetrack supporters say would bring $3.5 million a year to the county in taxes and tourism revenue and would create 500 full-time jobs.

The copper site, which is near the Baltimore Beltway, has been vacant for years and is a mile and half from homes.

Berge said the track would be used for three full-capacity events a year and hopes to secure contracts with major race sponsors like Busch and NASCAR. Middle Racing does not own any other racetracks.

The proposed Pasadena track would be a mile long on the outside loop with a half-mile stretch tucked inside. Berge said the facility would support everything from monster truck pulls to motorcycle races. The group also hopes to launch a "minor league program" for 20 weeks a year that would bring up to 8,000 people a night to watch amateur drivers compete.

"Racing is a good sport. It is a clean sport and we're going to bring it to Anne Arundel," Chris Lenchenski, Middle River Racing general manager, told the crowd to loud applause. Lenchenski handled the marketing of the Atlanta Olympics last summer.

"This could just be perhaps the best site to put a racetrack in the country," he said. "We want this place to be to racing what country music is to Nashville."

Pub Date: 3/15/98

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