NASCAR woos island, Kitsap for racetrack

There are already 11,000 season ticket holders in the area, backers say.

Kitsap got its first extended exposure to the International Speedway Corporation’s local race track proposal this week, when ISC officials conducted public meetings at opposite ends of the county.

The delegation, led by ISC President Lesa Kennedy, spoke Wednesday at a Bainbridge Island Chamber of Commerce luncheon, followed by a pair of of informal receptions at South Kitsap High School that drew several hundred citizens.

Representatives fielded questions on everything from track financing to traffic.

One of the most common questions had to do with the public funding required to build the 80,000-seat track, proposed for land near the Bremerton Airport.

Plans for a NASCAR track in Snohomish County were abandoned last year over questions of public financing. Track supporters say public money for a Kitsap track would be raised through the sale of bonds, and would not require any new taxes.

While ISC counsel Matt Rearden said the private contribution would be substantial, the corporation would not pick up the entire tab.

“These days, sports facilities are built with public/private partnerships – unless you are in New York,” he said. “This will have a significant impact on the community. It will bring in a lot of money. But that money won’t come into the community without us.”

While 30 to 40 percent of race attendees could qualify as “local” – originating from the Seattle area – ISC said that many attendees travel eight to 10 hours to reach NASCAR events.

ISC is the sport’s governing body and would own the track facility, while NASCAR would be a tenant. Not all track events would carry the NASCAR label.

Kennedy said there are already 11,000 NASCAR season ticket holders in the Northwest region.

Responding to questions about access on race weekends, Rearden said State Route 3, the main artery through the South Kitsap area, could be reconfigured to use the shoulders to accommodate the increased traffic. It could also be repaved and widened with ISC footing part of the cost.

“There are a lot of different things we can do with traffic,” Rearden said. “Right now, everything is open to discussion.”

The track would need a new range of hospitality services, and Ken Haines, whose family owns property adjacent to Route 3 in South Kitsap, said he intends to build a hotel.

“I’d love for them to do this,” Haines said of the track project. “It’s been really hard to get infrastructure improvements on the local roads. This will help us get these things done.”

The events offered random information from different sources on the proposal. Tickets to NASCAR events can cost from $190 to $340 each, but most are sold to season ticketholders, organizers said. About 40 percent of race fans are women.

The track proposal has already generated some opposition. Several attendees at the South Kitsap events said they had expected to participate in a public forum, with ISC representatives answering questions in an open meeting.

“I expected something like a town hall meeting, where we could stand up and ask some questions,” said Christine Whitehall, a Belfair resident. “This will define the community of Belfair. A lot of people will be affected. If we aren’t going to get to ask these questions in public, then I’m wasting my time.”

Charlie Burrow, an Indianola resident who has criticized county officials over the public process to date, said the informal format allowed ISC to “avoid controversial subjects.

“There is not a lot of depth to what they are telling us here,” Burrow said.

ISC, however, said it never promised anything more than a “meet and greet.”

“We always planned to do it this way at first,” ISC Vice President Grant Lynch said. “This is the best way to get our message across.”

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