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NASCAR Sees 'Compelling Case'

Source: Charlotte Observer  

August 18, 2005

NASCAR officials quizzed city leaders about Charlotte's plans for the sport's hall of fame Wednesday, probing to make sure that an opening-day success could last for decades.

Mark Dyer, NASCAR's vice president of licensing, described the two-hour, closed-door dialogue as "robust," but he would not discuss details.

Dyer and NASCAR Chief Operating Officer George Pyne avoided listing the pros and cons of putting the hall of fame in Charlotte. Their comments during an afternoon news conference illustrated NASCAR's priorities: long-term success and financial gain.

"Charlotte did an outstanding job today in making a compelling case," Pyne said.

Charlotte was the third stop on NASCAR's five-city tour of the bidders for the hall of fame. The delegation went to Atlanta on Tuesday and will be in Kansas City today. Next week, they will go to Richmond, Va., the final stop. Pyne said NASCAR expects to announce the winner sometime this year.

During Wednesday's news conference, Pyne and Dyer talked repeatedly about making the hall of fame attractive for at least 15 or 20 years.

The leaders of Charlotte's bid have been making 10-year plans, and the building would last much longer.

John Tate of Wachovia, who helped develop Charlotte's financial proposal, said it includes money to revamp exhibits and keep the building feeling fresh.

"If you're healthy through 10 years, you're going to have the wherewithal to be healthy for the long term," he said.

Charlotte must provide more information about other tourist attractions in the area, said Mayor Pat McCrory. He and others have billed the hall as the base for adventures into NASCAR Valley, the network of race shops and racing-related museums in the region.

That's a great attraction for race fans, but perhaps not for the general public. Atlanta, in contrast, can bring nonrace fans as part of a trip that could include The World of Coca-Cola and a new aquarium.

The leaders of Wednesday's delegation are familiar with Charlotte. Dyer works out of NASCAR's Charlotte office, which Pyne launched in 1996.

Dyer said he is particularly impressed with the rapid growth of uptown's population.

"If people feel good enough to live here," Dyer said, "then that speaks well for the prospects for tourism."

The NASCAR officials saw the city from the receiving end of a classic dose of VIP treatment. They ate barbecue-spiced Carolina shrimp, blue crab with fried green tomatoes and pan-seared flatiron steak on checkered-flag tablecloths. Mannequins in driver's suits stood in the dining room as screens showed an animated fly-through of the hall.

On a video, drivers Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. recited the "built here, belongs here" slogan plastered on billboards around the city.

In person, Wachovia Chairman Ken Thompson declared his longtime support for NASCAR as a fan. U.S. Rep. Mel Watt, D-N.C., of Charlotte, touted a city that doesn't brag about diversity, but takes it for granted. State Sen. Dan Clodfelter, D-Mecklenburg, reminded the crowd how easy it was to sell a higher hotel tax to legislators around the state.

"We come away today," Pyne said, "with a real sense of commitment."