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NASCAR CEO France wants to keep 2 races in Charlotte

- rbonnell@charlotteobserver.com
Saturday, May. 25, 2013

If Bruton Smith is serious about moving the fall Sprint Cup race from Charlotte Motor Speedway to Las Vegas, he’ll have a tough sell with NASCAR Chairman/CEO Brian France.

“My preference would be to keep the event here in Charlotte,’’ France said Saturday during a news conference at the speedway. “That’s always been my preference.’’

Smith owns Charlotte Motor Speedway and eight other NASCAR tracks, including the one in Las Vegas. He told WBTV in an interview broadcast Monday that there’s a 70 percent chance he’d move the fall Sprint Cup race from Charlotte to Las Vegas.

“I know (NASCAR) would approve this,’’ Smith said.

France said Smith, who couldn’t be reached for comment Saturday, hasn’t raised the subject with NASCAR. He added that he’s predisposed to leaving the major events on the Sprint Cup schedule in their current locations.

“Our preference – my preference – is to make the events where they are more successful,’’ France said. “We have gotten a long way with our position in motorsports because we’ve had historically important events, like this weekend, that happen every year that people can count on.’’

The Coca-Cola 600, Sprint Cup’s longest race, is scheduled for 6 p.m. Sunday, completing two weeks of NASCAR activity at the track. The fall race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the Bank of America 500, is scheduled for Oct. 12.

NASCAR runs 38 race weekends in Sprint Cup, stock-car racing’s top circuit, and France said Saturday it has no plans to expand the schedule or add new tracks. Charlotte is one of 13 tracks with multiple race weekends.

Las Vegas currently hosts a Sprint Cup race in March and is looking for another date in the fall. Smith can request a race relocation, but ultimately it’s NASCAR’s call whether such a move takes place.

“When the game is over, it will be money, money, money. Money will move it,’’ Smith told WBTV regarding moving the fall date to Las Vegas. “I’d say (the chances) are about 70-30.’’

It’s not unprecedented for track operators to request races be moved to other tracks. North Carolina-based tracks in North Wilkesboro and Rockingham no longer host Sprint Cup events, as races were moved elsewhere.

“(If) for one reason or another, a certain market is not performing as well, it may be a better opportunity’’ to move a race, France said. “We’ve seen that in the last five, six years or longer.’’

After WBTV’s initial report, the station updated its story, quoting an unnamed source as saying a move to Las Vegas was certain. Smith then released a statement saying no final decision has been made.

In that same statement Smith said Speedway Motorsports has invested $100 million in the Charlotte Motor Speedway complex in the past six years while “our Cabarrus County taxes have doubled since 2005.”

“…It’s frustrating to think about the future and consider that the local government doesn’t share the same excitement about (the track) that our fans do,” Smith stated. “The Cabarrus County politicians may say nice things to the media, but raising taxes does not support the tourism business, the area economy or companies trying to grow.”

As Smith upgraded the complex, his taxes increased and in fact, doubled over the past few years. But the speedway is appealing the tax valuations that led to those bills.

A 2012 county assessment of Speedway Motorsports’ property put the value at about $294 million, with a tax bill of nearly $2.1 million. The appeal will be taken up at the local level in June, the county said. The speedway also appealed an earlier revaluation covering 2008-11, and that appeal is pending at the state level.

This isn’t the first time Smith has sought to leverage Cabarrus County.

In 2007, he vowed to move the speedway out of Concord if the city did not approve his plans for an adjacent drag strip. Local political and business leaders publicly and privately lobbied Smith to stay.

The road leading to the track was renamed Bruton Smith Boulevard. The Cabarrus Visitors Bureau flew a plane over the speedway with a banner reading, “We (heart) you Bruton,” and even sent him an overflowing fruit basket with little chocolate race cars.

An $80 million government incentives package ultimately persuaded Smith to stay and build the drag strip, although Smith later quarreled with local leaders over implementation of the incentives.

In April, Smith sought to revive a lawsuit claiming officials in Cabarrus reneged on the incentives. That claim remains before the state Court of Appeals, the county said. Observer reporter Adam Bell contributed.

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