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Track backers make pitch in Seattle

A group of racetrack supporters brought their case to Seattle on Friday night, presenting the reasons why the state should embrace the idea of a NASCAR track in Kitsap County and how it would enhance the regional economy.

Representatives of the Checkered Flag Club addressed the group in a conference room atop the posh Columbia Tower in downtown Seattle, with an easy bird’s eye view of Kitsap County to the west.

The panel presented many of the pro-track positions articulated during the 30-month debate, and fielded several questions from the approximately 40 attendees.

The meeting, however, did not appear to accomplish its intended purpose. Of those attending, at least two thirds were current Kitsap County residents, racetrack advocates and their spouses.

The hope of gathering a large segment of the Seattle business community to spread the word about the idea and lobby legislators on its behalf did not materialize.

Nevertheless, Checkered Flag Club President Rick Flaherty called the gathering a success, since it will generate word of mouth.

“Every little bit helps,” he said. “We were able to clarify our position and reach a few more people. That was the important thing.”

Flaherty didn’t mind that he seemed to be preaching to the NASCAR choir, as

he said the event attracted at least two very important people: Economic Consultant John Powers from Enterprise Seattle and, closer to home, Bainbridge Island City Councilmember Bill Knobloch.

Knobloch, who had come to the meeting with no clear preference, left feeling “very positive” about the idea.

“The most sensitive issue is the use of tax dollars,” Knobloch said. “But I am now leaning toward supporting the track for several reasons, one of which is how it will help turn Bremerton Airport into a satellite facility. Many large cities have satellite airports, but we don’t have that around here.”

The message — even if it wasn’t communicated to many people outside the loop — was that no public money will be used to finance the racetrack. International Speedway Corp. (ISC) needs the legislature to create an independent racetrack commission, which is authorized to issue bonds.

This would raise the needed $166 million, without the use of public money.

Additionally, the group maintains that the projected sales tax revenue increase will exceed the $166 million in the first year of operation.

“This kind of opportunity comes along once in an eternity,” said panelist Pete Crane. “When we look back at this in 20 years, we will see that this is one business opportunity that made a difference.”

Added Flaherty, “The people who come to these events spend a lot of money. There are no losers.”

“This is the best type of economic development there is,” said Checkered Flag Club member Dick Davis of Port Orchard. Davis said that people in King County should embrace the project because, “King County will get all the tourist dollars, but we will get all of the traffic.”

Rob Holland, a member of the King County Agricultural Commission and a racetrack supporter, attended to gather more material for his own word-of-mouth campaign.

“A racetrack in Kitsap County would add new vitality to the region,” he said. “It provides another reason for people to visit Seattle. This will generate significant funds.”

Holland said he intends to generate the interest of people of color, visiting African-American and Hispanic groups to educate them about NASCAR’s appeal.

“This is a great sport with huge appeal to a variety of groups,” he said. “We need to demystify the sport and decrease the Southern redneck spin.”

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