2 dreamers see indoor NASCAR track near Pittsburgh

ON MOTOR SPORTS

Auto Racing

November 14, 1999|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

Several decades ago, sprint cars raced inside the Atlantic City Convention Hall. The noise reverberated off the walls, as the small, open-wheeled cars dashed around the short course lined with bales of hay and straw.

These days, monster trucks and motorcycles perform inside civic arenas, including Baltimore's.

But nowhere has anyone undertaken to build a super-speedway indoors and stage a Winston Cup stock-car race.

At least, until now.

"The idea was motivated by a lot of beer," said Bob Brant, laughing. "No. No. That's a joke. We've really talked about building a track for a long time, and now the technology has come together to do it under a roof."

Under a roof. Indoors. Well, even Houston's Astrodome had its doubters when it was put on the drawing board.

So, how big would this building to house a one-mile super-speedway be? About 2.6 million square feet, equivalent of more than 45 football fields.

How many seats? Up to 120,000.

How expensive? About $300 million, privately financed.

Where? Near Pittsburgh International Airport on 145 acres owned by Allegheny County, Pa.

How noisy? How polluted?

"The technology is there to clean the air and soften the noise," said Brant, 46. "We want it to be crowd-friendly. We don't think it will be any louder than a night race at Bristol [Tenn.]. And we have other contingencies to bring the noise lower. We want it fan-friendly, but we don't want it too quiet. The noise, that's part of the entertainment."

Brant and his brother, Ted, natives of Short Gap, W. Va., just across the Potomac from Cumberland, have until next May to get their financial package together. Between now and then, engineering, marketing, environmental and traffic studies, title searches and core drillings have to be done.

And, the project has to pass aviation approval, which includes studying the impact of noise on the airport.

But one of the things Bob Brant is happiest about is that "there haven't been any negative complaints coming from surrounding communities.

"Everyone," he said, "seems to be for it."

An indoor racetrack opens up a lot of new prospects.

Cale Yarborough, who went to Pittsburgh for the project's official announcement, said last week from South Carolina he believes the concept is wonderful.

"You can race any time of year," Yarborough said. "I'm not an investor, but if I had the opportunity, I would be. I know NASCAR hasn't committed to it yet, but I really believe if the Brants build it, NASCAR will come."

Kevin Triplett, NASCAR's director of operations, said only that "we don't deal in hypotheticals."

Brant said the track is closing in on reality.

"We've already got about 80 percent of the financial package," he said. That would be approximately $240 million. But just who the investors are, Brant wouldn't say.

"We want to announce the whole package at one time," he said. He and his brother hope to break ground next spring and have the facility ready for operation in 2002.

Local foray

When the Pennzoil 400 Winston Cup stock-car race runs at the Metro-Dade Homestead Motorsports Complex in Florida this afternoon, there will be several first-time experiences:

The first Winston Cup race at Homestead.

The first Winston Cup race televised by NBC.

And the first time Rent-A-Wreck, the rental-car business based in Owings Mills, shows up as major sponsor of a Winston Cup car.

The black Ford Taurus that Rent-A-Wreck is sponsoring will have the No. 61 on its sides. It is owned by Mark Thompson and will be driven by Bob Strait.

Thompson, who owns the Midway Island Resort, thinks his sponsor and racing are a perfect match.

"Rent-A-Wreck appeals to NASCAR fans, because NASCAR fans love cars," he said. "They like getting under the hood and working on them as much as driving them. Rent-A-Wreck makes no bones about the fact that its cars are not brand new, and it takes lots of skill to keep those cars going as good as the new ones."

Ken L. Blum Jr., the company's president and chief-executive officer, planned to be in Homestead today with other company officials to watch his car and the race.

"It's a one-race deal," said Gene Blum, a company spokesman. "But Ken, our president, absolutely loves the sport. If it was totally up to him, we'd put all our advertising money in racing. After this Winston Cup race, we'll see where we want to go.

"But, we'll remain in racing, whether or not we decide to stay at this level."

Nuts and bolts

Kenny Brack, the 1998 IRL champion and current Indy 500 champ, is leaving owner A. J. Foyt and the IRL for the Bobby Rahal-owned CART team. It is interesting to note the new CART schedule does not include a May race, leaving its teams free to compete in the Indianapolis 500 for the first time since the split between the two series after the 1995 season. Six to 12 teams are said to be making plans to do just that.

Winston Cup driver Ricky Rudd still needs a victory in the last two races of 1999 to extend his consecutive seasons with at least one victory to 17. Tony Stewart's victory last week propelled him to fourth in the Winston Cup points race. The modern era's highest finishing rookie was Jody Ridley, who was seventh in 1981.

Rusty Wallace remains one victory away from his 50th win, but now he has competition. Jeff Gordon is also one win from No. 50. Who will get it first?

Rookies Stewart and Elliott Sadler are among the top 10 drivers in miles completed this season. Stewart is second, having run all but 243 of the 12,343 miles contested. Sadler has run all but 383. Bobby Labonte, Stewart's teammate on Joe Gibbs' team, is first, having missed only 109 miles.

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