Opinion

ISC leaves Kitsap race fans star-struck

First, let me say I am no fan of automobile racing.

Professional auto racing, that is. I am aware that our state is chock-full of amateurs, mostly teenage drivers, whose egos cannot abide being passed by another car so they manage to kill themselves and/or others off periodically.

But with the possibility of my home county of Kitsap becoming the home of the first NASCAR (National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing) racetrack this side of California, I paid $25 to hear a luncheon pitch for it.

An enthusiastic crowd packed the Red Lion Hotel Silverdale’s main dining room to the rafters, and emcee Rick Flaherty got everybody in the proper mood by saying they should take initiative guru Tim Eyman to the state border and throw him out because he’s screwing things up.

Flaherty thinks, I deduced, that Eyman is the one behind Initiative 912 which, if passed Nov. 8, will repeal the 9.5 cent gasoline tax increase the 2005 Legislature gifted us with, but he is not. Influential legislators have said if it passes, there isn’t the slightest chance the state will pony up any cash to help build the racetrack as it has for other sports arenas.

No way, no how, no time.

If International Speedway Corp. can put together a public-private partnership to raise the $250 million it will cost, of which Speedway is looking at $50 million as its personal contribution, it’s to be an 80,000-seat track built on 950 acres about halfway between the Bremerton International Airport and Belfair on the east side of State Route 3. ISC already has an option on the land, which has belonged to the same South Kitsap family since 1922 and has done nothing with it other than raise some Christmas trees, which tells you what really lousy land it is.

Nothing wrong with that. Lousy land is perfect for race tracks, and this one abounds in brush and mud.

It’s kind of an excuse for a swamp, i.e., it isn’t swampy enough to encourage the greenies to stick their noses into it and try to kill the deal to protect a wetland.

Opening date: 2010.

Anyway, ISC hastened to get an option on the land because the reason the deal fell through when the plan was to build in Snohomish, ISC’s Grant Lynch said, was word of the proposal got out too soon.

“We didn’t tie up the land and the cost of the land tanked the project,” he said. The Snohomish site owners inflated the value of their land four times as much and the price soared to $370 million before ISC threw in the towel and came to Kitsap.

It’s expected that 60 percent of the customers will come from out of state and will spend a heckuva lot of money for hotels, restaurants, concessions of all kinds. Race fans always stay a few days and are big spenders. State Routes 16 and 3 will need to be widened but ISC isn’t in the highway-building business, Lynch said.

The state will do it. “We rely on cops and cones.” For non-fans, living with a racetrack’s crowds means don’t go that way for the hour before the race and the hour afterward, he said, find some other way to go. There are other roads around the Kitsap site.

Impact on the already-crowded ferries? The state has authorized two new ones. Noise? One car tooling around the track can be heard from her home two miles from the track in Kansas City, said a Kansas City visitor flown in to help make the pitch, and a bunch of cars just make a low hum.

Kansas City, Kan., was a dying community before it got its racetrack in 1997, said Brigitte Jobe of the KC Visitors Bureau. And now, with its mall, is the No. 1 tourist attraction. They’d go for it over again in a heartbeat, she said. Lynch said the Kitsap track would be the jewel in the company’s crown, with its magnificent views. It’ll really make this place.

When it was question time, my question was how can we be sure you won’t get it half built and then ask us taxpayers to pay off the rest? Our financial package will be forthcoming shortly, said Lynch. The crowd departed with star in their eyes and more than a few could hear the sound of that low hum as the cars hurtle around the track.

Adele Ferguson can be reached at P.O. Box 69, Hansville, Wa., 98340.

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