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W.Va. firm plans world's largest indoor auto racetrack here

2.6 million-square-foot facility would be built in Findlay near airport

Tuesday, April 20, 1999

By Mark Belko, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

An indoor auto racing track the size of six football fields capable of holding up to 120,000 fans as well as a couple of Boeing 747s?

    Related article:

Market-savvy NASCAR races to winner's circle


Sound far-fetched? Apparently not, based on the ambitious plans of Brant Motorsports Inc. of Morgantown, W. Va., for a racing complex near Pittsburgh International Airport.

Brant is proposing to build what is being described as the world's first full-sized enclosed speedway on county-owned land in Findlay. The complex would feature state-of-the-art ventilation and soundproofing to allow year-round indoor racing.

The race track would cost $300 million to $350 million and would contain 2.6 million square feet of space that could be used for concerts, aircraft exhibits, industrial trade shows and conventions as well as for auto racing.

"It's probably the biggest single room in America," county Commissioner Mike Dawida said yesterday.

Brant, a marketing company which owns a team in the Pep Boys Indianapolis Racing League, will unveil its plans today at an airport news conference. Expected to be on hand are county and Findlay officials, Brant representatives, and others, including auto racing hall of famer Cale Yarborough.

Dawida said the complex would be almost all privately funded, with the county providing infrastructure improvements, possibly through tax-increment financing. Still sketchy is how Brant intends to fund the venture, which would cost more than either of the two stadiums being built in Pittsburgh or the expansion of the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.

The county is negotiating with Brant to sell or lease the land for the racing complex, Dawida said. He said the company was confident it could raise the money for the project.

"Brant is very committed to making this project a reality," company spokesman Matt Doherty said.

Brant is working with the Austin Company of Cleveland, an engineering and design firm, and Toronto-based Robbie/Young & Wright Architects Inc., which designed the Toronto Skydome, on the project.

The complex would feature a banked oval track three quarters of a mile to a mile in length, 60,000 permanent seats with the capability to add anther 60,000 to 65,000 temporary ones, skyboxes, and a restaurant and bar overlooking the track. Dawida said a multilevel underground parking garage also would be built adjacent to the complex.

Dawida said a state of the art ventiliation system would remove fumes and auto exhaust through the floor of the facility. A tunnel would enable race cars to get to the track from the outside.

Video screens would enable race fans to follow the action around the track and offer them unique perspectives, such as shots from inside the cars. The complex also would be built with a large airport hangar-type door to allow airplanes to be towed inside for shows.

Brant has said its goal is to attract "world-class motor sports" to the facility, and that aspect, maybe more so than the financing or the technology of an indoor facility, may be its toughest challenge.

Neither the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing or any other sanctioning body is affiliated with the project. NASCAR spokesman Tim Sullivan said yesterday Brant had spoken to the organization about its plans but that was as far as it had gone.

Sullivan said NASCAR currently had five races within a five-hour drive of Pittsburgh -- two in the Poconos, two in Detroit, and one in Indianapolis -- and was happy with its schedule. Pittsburgh currently is not in NASCAR's plans, he said.

"That's not to say Pittsburgh's not an attractive market," he added.

H.A. Wheeler, the president of Speedway Motorsports Inc., which operates six tracks around the country, said Brant's biggest challenge would be securing dates for top races. They are very tough to obtain, and he said a complex of the cost Brant was proposing would need at least one Winston Cup date each year to be viable.

"It's very difficult to make a track work without a NASCAR/Winston Cup race," Wheeler said. "There's a lot of people looking for those dates."

He called Pittsburgh a "great racing market" but added it may be hurt by its proximity to NASCAR events in eastern Pennsylvania.

"NASCAR is almost a franchise-like deal," he said. "It's difficult to build in someone's back yard."

Doherty said it was premature to discuss specific events because organizations wouldn't sanction races until tracks had been completed. Dawida said one advantage Brant would have was the indoor track, which could make early or late season races more viable in Pittsburgh. The NASCAR season runs from mid-February to late November. He also said there were other types of racing available.

"It's not just NASCAR we're after," he said.

Brant hopes to use the complex for 200 events a year. Dawida said 40 of them would be auto racing. It hopes to begin building next year with completion planned in 2002.

Wheeler said building an enclosed motorsports facility was not as far-out as it might seem. He said Speedway explored the idea of enclosing its Bristol, Tenn., track but was sobered by the cost -- some $30 million. It is not unusual for truck pulls or motorcycle and go-cart racing to be held indoors, although the Brant facility would be the first to offer full-fledged auto racing.

Dawida said he didn't see the complex drawing business from the Lawrence convention center.

"It's a different market. You can't take a 747 and tow it down to the convention center. This is sort of an industrial size kind of thing," he said.

Red Miley, president of Miley Motorsports, which operates Pittsburgh's Pennsylvania Motor Speedway in Imperial, said Brant's proposal came "out of the blue." He said he hoped the venture was successful because it would be good for his business.

"I see it as helping," he said. "We'll feed off it, actually."

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