Schedule changes have fans in mind

Posted: Thursday, March 04, 2004

LAS VEGAS Although NASCAR won't release its 2005 schedule for another six months, the work behind the scenes is at full speed.

The North Carolina Speedway, which drew less than 55,000 fans two weeks ago, is trying to sell its proximity to the Charlotte area and its appeal among the drivers to keep its last remaining date on the 36-race schedule.

The Darlington (S.C.) Raceway not only added lights, but spent $1 million on the Steel and Foam Energy Reduction barriers to reduce the severity of crashes. That track wouldn't go through those kinds of expenses if it didn't plan on keeping both of its dates.

At the same time, state lawmakers in Washington are working to make a new speedway possible for the Pacific Northwest. International Speedway Corp., which owns both North Carolina and Darlington, has been looking for as many as 1,000 acres to build a 1.5-mile racetrack that would resemble its two most recent projects at Kansas City and Joliet, Ill.

"We can wait and lose the opportunity, or we can continue to move forward in showing we have the best ground, the best crowds and the greatest opportunity," said Lt. Gov. Brad Owen.

NASCAR already has said its current docket of 36 official and two all-star races has stretched the season to its limit. To make room for a race in Washington, and eventually in New York, NASCAR knows it must trim from its current list of raceways.

Competition has gotten so intense for racing dates, a season ticket holder at the Texas Motor Speedway soon will go to court with hopes of forcing the sanctioning body to give Texas a second date. The continued problems at North Carolina to attract fans had many believing ISC would be willing to sell the property to Speedway Motorsports Inc. so that company can move that date to Texas.

However, if SMI buys North Carolina, it's now expected to move it for a second date at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. SMI owner O. Bruton Smith apparently feels a second Texas date will come from a Texas courtroom.

While all this is going on, other tracks are asking for a better spot in the lineup. The Atlanta Motor Speedway, for example, has requested a spot in June so it can stage a race under the lights.

Racetracks are more reluctant to give up a racing date since there's so much money involved in the $2.8 billion television contract. Under that deal, the speedways get a 65 percent cut of the money, which makes each racing date a valuable commodity.

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