Track backers do Tacoma

An estimated 4,000 racing fans filled the Tacoma Dome on Thursday night to show their support for International Speedway Corp. and its plans to build a racing facility in southwestern Kitsap County.

“We’re presenting a microcosm of a racing weekend here tonight aside from the race itself,” said ISC spokesman Stann Tate prior to the event. Added company Vice President Grant Lynch, “We aren’t here to talk about public-private partnerships or draft legislation. We just want to give fans a taste of what it’s like.”

Most of the stadium floor was covered with displays and, of course, fancy cars of every stripe. On one end, several media figures and racecar drivers gave enthusiastic speeches in support of the project on a stage borrowed from Toby Keith (scheduled to perform the following night).

They shared old stories and pumped up the crowd with statements like, “This track is going to look really great on TV.”

The drivers also spent time giving out autographs to fans (race car drivers are less aloof than the average rock star or professional athlete in this respect).

While the intent was to offer fans a free taste, ISC was also looking to get something back. It distributed two different forms for fans to sign for the purpose of gathering a database of racetrack supporters to mobilize for further events and show support for the project to their individual legislators.

Since announcing their intention to build the track in Kitsap County, ISC has only held a few specifically targeted public events. While this most recent gathering specifically managed its content, it was the largest so far.

It was also the first event intended to gather support from outside Kitsap County.

Lynch said ISC chose the Tacoma Dome for its size, central location and ability to reach people who aren’t residents of Kitsap. ISC projects 60 percent of racetrack attendees will come from out of state.

While the event itself had elements of a pep rally, Lynch privately addressed the track’s more controversial aspects. He admitted that ISC got started too late in order to lay the proper legislative groundwork, especially in light of this year’s short session.

“In some places, we’ve waited a year to get approval,” he said. “It just gives us more time to rally our supporters and strengthen our position.”

Taking the next step — floating bonds — requires legislative approval, and that might not come this year.

Lynch said that waiting until the 2007 session would give ISC another year to build its case, but he admits it would also give those against the track time to present their opposition.

Lynch is also not concerned about opposition from legislators.

“The good thing about a statewide bill is that you don’t need everyone’s support to get it through,” he said. “There is a chance that we might get it to go through this year. But legislators are up for re-election and they may be reluctant to address something so controversial.”

Lynch said ISC has met personally with Gov. Christine Gregoire. While she has not taken a stand, Lynch said she has underscored the importance of securing local support for the project.

While the evening’s message revolved around a love of racing, Lynch spent much of his time talking up the economic benefits.

“This will do great things for the local economy and provide an anchor for other businesses,” he said. “People who come in for a race will stay on average for a week. The No. 1 attendance day at Disney World is the day after the Daytona 500.”

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