Track developer, NASCAR seen at odds Plans in Ill. could hurt chances in Arundel

June 24, 1998|By Laura Sullivan | Laura Sullivan,SUN STAFF

Developers planning a $100 million speedway in Anne Arundel County are trying to build a similar track outside Chicago, a move that puts them in direct competition with NASCAR officials and could hurt their chances of bringing major races to this area.

The recently renamed Chesapeake Motor Sports Development Corp., which plans a track on the Solley peninsula that has sparked controversy, also has optioned land in Kankakee, Ill. The company hopes that within 90 days it can begin construction on the Illinois speedway, which would be bigger than the one proposed here.

But Chesapeake faces formidable competition in the Chicago area, which experts describe as the second-largest untapped racing market in the nation, after New York. A group headed by the leaders of NASCAR and the Indy Racing League, which together own the richest races in the nation, is planning its own multimillion-dollar speedway 60 miles south of the Chesapeake group's site.

Indy Racing League officials say that they see Chesapeake as competition, which could offer insight into NASCAR's announcement last month that it had no plans to schedule a NASCAR race at the Anne Arundel track.

In late April, several weeks after Chesapeake said it had brokered a deal with the owner of South Boston Speedway in Virginia to bring a NASCAR race to Maryland, NASCAR said it did not approve the deal and had no plans to offer any racing dates. Officials noted that they already hold 13 races within a five-hour drive of Baltimore.

But some racing experts -- and a study Chesapeake commissioned -- say this area is ripe for a large speedway. NASCAR's quick dismissal of the Baltimore region caught some in Chesapeake off guard and has left them wondering whether the rush to develop in the Chicago area is hurting their chances of getting a NASCAR race here.

"We are both entities looking at Illinois," said Joe Mattioli, Chesapeake's chief operating officer. "The dynamics of any big business would give room to speculate that activities in one area might have an effect on the other."

Even without a NASCAR date, Mattioli is confident Chesapeake can make a speedway here fly with other -- albeit smaller -- racing series.

"Some observers would say there is clearly a lot of posturing," said Indy Racing League spokesman Fred Nation of the Illinois situation. "We are confident we can build our track.

"Our competition, being the other Kankakee track, may think that won't happen and are being poised in case we don't. But if they are proceeding believing we are not going to build our track, they are wrong."

He added, "It would be highly unusual for both of them to be built."

The Chesapeake group's Kankakee plans call for a 1.5-mile track and 60,000- to 70,000-seat stadium, much like the one planned for Anne Arundel. The group has optioned 800 acres on the border of the city and has asked city officials to annex the property.

The Kankakee project has faced fewer hurdles than has the nTC track here, where there is less land, more environmental concerns and a larger population around the site.

A small group of residents in Kankakee, though, echoed some in Pasadena when they recently expressed anger that a county council meeting was packed with race fans bused in from other areas.

"Nothing has been up front," said Kankakee resident Cindy Lawrence, who is opposed to the track. "This is a done deal, here it is, that's how it was approached to us. Think of all the traffic and noise. Who wants to live next to that?"

Kankakee Mayor Donald Green, who visited the Mattioli family's Pocono speedway in Pennsylvania several months ago, said most people are excited about the idea of having a track.

"We are a small Midwest community and this could have a huge economic impact on our county," Green said. "It's a wonderful project. People who come to races go home at night and leave their money here."

The Anne Arundel Economic Development Corp., which lured the Chesapeake group to the county, said it was aware of the project in Kankakee but did not think that it detracts from local plans.

Pub Date: 6/24/98

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