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Charlotte Leaders Make Pitch for NASCAR Hall of Fame

Source: Charlotte Business Journal  

August 18, 2005

NASCAR officials praised leaders of Charlotte's bid for a racing hall of fame during a site visit Wednesday, but divulged few details on how the five bid cities stack up or what it will take for one of them to pull ahead.

Mayor Pat McCrory delivered the formal bid presentation as part of a local delegation hosted NASCAR Chief Operating Officer George Pyne and licensing executive Mark Dyer. Charlotte is vying with Atlanta; Kansas City, Kan.; Richmond, Va.; and Daytona Beach, Fla., for the hall of fame. The local bid calls for a 130,000-square-foot, $137.5 million project funded mainly through increased hospitality taxes.

"You start with the financial structure of the facility," Dyer says. "How much debt, if any, is the hall of fame going to be carrying. ... Income, revenue, expenses. The business part has got to be sound."

Local economic impact estimates for having the hall of fame here range from $60 million to $100 million annually. Pyne declines to disclose financial details of how revenue will be shared and how much the hall of fame might generate.

Dyer and Pyne say NASCAR plans to review the site visits and proposals beginning next week and then contact each city for more information. A decision is anticipated late this year.

Dyer works from NASCAR's Charlotte office and Pyne was based here before relocating to the sanctioning body's Daytona Beach headquarters several years ago. Despite that familiarity, Pyne says the visit was beneficial.

"(One thing that is) always good to be reminded of is the passion for racing in Charlotte," he says. "NASCAR is an integral part of life in Charlotte."

Pyne says putting a NASCAR Hall of Fame here would offer an authentic setting. He declines handicapping the cities, describing each as unique in its setting and proposal.

Locally based race-team owner Rick Hendrick, McCrory, Bank of America Corp. marketing executive Cathy Bessant and Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority Chief Executive Tim Newman have organized the bid and spent much of this year working on various aspects of the proposal. Hendrick says the bid represents the most comprehensive civic commitment he has seen in his 29 years living here.

"I'm blown away with the proposal," he says. "We're committed to making it work here.

The daylong visit included a helicopter tour of Charlotte and the surrounding counties where many race teams are housed. Hendrick notes there are 300 race teams within a 60-mile radius -- and points out many NASCAR fans visit the area year-round for tours of local race shops. Hendrick Motorsports Inc. (200,000 fans annually), Dale Earnhardt Inc. (235,000) and Roush Racing Inc. (100,000) all offer examples of existing tourist attractions. Hendrick says adding a NASCAR Hall of Fame would increase racing-related tourism.

At a luncheon earlier in the day, Pyne and Dyer heard from various political and business leaders. Attendees included NASCAR star Jimmie Johnson, team owner Ray Evernham, Congressman Mel Watt, N.C. Sen. Dan Clodfelter and Speedway Motorsports Inc. (NYSE:TRK) executives Bruton Smith and Humpy Wheeler.

The NASCAR contingent entered the convention center on a red carpet amid clumps of onlookers wearing yellow "Racing Was Built Here" T-shirts. Several prominent race cars -- including those driven by Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart -- sat just to the right of the convention center's main entrance.

"I want to make one more pitch," McCrory told Pyne and Dyer at a post-tour press conference. "This is where the stars are, this is where the past is, this is where the future is. It makes so much sense for (the hall of fame) to be here."

Contact media and sports business reporter Erik Spanberg at espanberg@bizjournals.com or (704) 973-1116.