Category Archives: Speedway

IMPRA Hearing in June

Steven Gardner writes:

Chris Henry covered the county commissioner meeting Monday and saw the commissioners vote 2-1 to tentatively settle with the Coalition for Healthy Economic Choices in Kitsap and Kitsap Citizens for Responsible Planning, who argued against the commissioners’ decision last year to give the land proposed for a speedway a “placeholder” status.

The settlement agreement calls for the county to hold a public hearing in June to decide whether the Industrial Multi-Purpose Recreational Area designation for the 950 acres should be repealed.

North Kitsap Commissioner Chris Endresen, who will be vacating her seat at the end of June to head up U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell’s state office, was outspoken in her criticism of the interim zoning. Endresen said that people lose faith when governments make hasty zoning improvisations such as the IMPRA.

“I can’t even think of a polite way to say it,” she said. “It’s that we were trying to pull the wool over people’s eyes.”

Property owner David Overton said he had been left out of the conversation.

“I think all I’d say is that we’re sorry the county chose to do these actions behind closed doors and to not partner with a family that’s had an investment in the county since 1920,” Overton said.

He added that he has potential investors interested in his family’s property. But the loss of NASCAR and now the likely reversion of zoning will be a disincentive for them to locate in Kitsap County.

Asked if he had further comment, Overton said, “Nothing you can print.”

Some Were :-( While Others Were :-) — Updated

Steven Gardner writes:

UPDATE: I’ve had a couple e-mails sent directly to me that I want to respond to here, and a couple of comments that merit some response as well.

First off, my motives for obtaining the documents and writing the story had everything to do with a simple interest in understanding better how the process unfolded. My interest was sparked by a single e-mail that was forwarded to me, a communication that suggested a pretty organized campaign to counter ISC’s lobbying efforts. In the end, I don’t think the stack of e-mails showed as organized an effort as that first e-mail suggested, but it’s clear to me legislators took the issue seriously and did the work they needed to do to keep the bill from getting anywhere.

Almost any information that could have come from the e-mails would have been interesting to me. Had they shown that some legislators waffled during the session, that would have been news. Had there been disinterest, that would have been news. As I wrote to one e-mailer, I’m a sucker for backstory, so almost anything would have been worth a story to me. It helps me understand better how the game works. Personally, without trying to get too high on a soapbox here, I think that’s better for all of us.

As for seeing ISC’s e-mails, I’d like that too. What are the odds I’ll get them? I will say that one time during this process I overheard a strategy session they didn’t know I was hearing. What I heard, about a local election to approve the track, was interesting then, but not so much anymore. There was nothing as interesting as “I want this dead, dead, dead.”

Finally, I think it worth mentioning again that legislators could (probably) have withheld a lot of the communications I saw. I thank them and their staffs for turning them over.

Scheduled for Sunday’s Kitsap Sun is a story disclosing some of the e-mail exchanges between legislators while the NASCAR bill was still alive. It begins right before the session and ends a few days after ISC announced it was done pursuing Kitsap County.

On Feb. 20 the NASCAR legislation was heard in Senate and House committees. In between there was a press conference during which Seaquist told media that ISC was a bad citizen, the type that would put junky cars in the yard and try to get around the law.

The next morning Rolfes wrote Kilmer about ISC Vice-president Grant Lynch’s assertion that legislators weren’t really opposed to the bill. She talked to Lynch afterward. “I wanted to make sure that he knew that I was unconditionally opposed to the bill. He told me I wasn’t and that even if I was, the other legislators weren’t. I’m still angry about his arrogance. I sicked Sherry on him,” she wrote.

Seaquist wrote that he’d enjoyed the hearing, then later added, “Since I typed the above I was just hauled off the floor to learn that I’d been quoted in the S. Times this morning calling these folks bad citizens. I guess I’m about to get a lesson in guarding my words.”

The story comes from a document request I made asking the nine Kitsap legislators for copies of e-mails they shared with other government officials. I’ve been told by two sources that the legislators had the right under the U.S. Constitution to withhold much of what I received, so I’m grateful for the access.

The story in print is abridged. The online version should be about twice as long.

Good-bye to zoning

Christopher Dunagan writes:

Remnants of Kitsap County’s brief experience with NASCAR are being dismantled, one by one. County planners have been pulled off the project, and county lawyers are tying up the loose ends.

To avoid fighting an appeal of the IMPRA (industrial multi-purpose recreation area) designation, the county commissioners may repeal that unusual place-holding zoning.
Here’s a short item I wrote for the paper:

Track Zoning Reconsidered

Kitsap County commissioners could be on their way to repealing a controversial zoning designation they implemented to support a proposed NASCAR track near Bremerton National Airport.

On Monday, the commissioners are scheduled to sign a settlement agreement with Coalition for Healthy Economic Choices in Kitsap (CHECK) and Kitsap Citizens for Responsible Planning. The two groups filed an appeal of the zoning, called Industrial Multi-Purpose Recreation Area, with the regional growth hearings board.

The settlement agreement calls for the county to hold a public hearing to determine if the IMPRA designation should be repealed. If repealed, the groups agree to drop their legal challenge.

IMPRA was approved as a “place holder” for 950 acres that could be used for a NASCAR track or other major development. Zoning rules required the county to negotiate a “development agreement” with the property owner prior to construction.

The hearing has not been scheduled, and the settlement agreement itself is not scheduled for public comment.

L.A. Story

Steven Gardner writes:

The folks at California Speedway are getting tired of being singled out as the example of NASCAR’s decline.

“I am really sick of talking about this,” she (track president Gillian Zucker) said.
Other NASCAR tracks — there are 14 that play host to two events a season — don’t get the same publicity when they fail to sell out, she said, adding, “There’s definitely a different standard that’s placed on this part of the country.”

The story is led with a comment by Dale Earnhardt Jr., who said “Hollywood could care less.”

The “My Name Is Earl” creator disagreed, saying the cast is full of fans. Indeed, the race I went to included appearances by at least two of the cast members from that show. Jim Belushi and the other guy from his show was there. So was Arnold the governor and former actor and Kelly Clarkson. That seems Hollywood.

Meanwhile in Kentucky

Steven Gardner writes:

NASCAR and ISC responded in the antitrust suit against them. According to, who says legal documents can’t be funny?

In its filing, ISC almost comically challenges a Kentucky Speedway assertion, when discussing the ability of the track to host a Cup date, that the track is “also immediately accessible via helicopter.” To that statement, ISC responds: “ISC admits … that, to some extent, depending upon weather conditions, the entire planet, including the Kentucky Speedway, is ‘immediately accessible via helicopter.’ “

Every One . . . Except One

Steven Gardner writes:

House Speaker Frank Chopp, a Bremerton native, was among those celebrating the opening of the Harborside Fountain Park in downtown Bremerton.

Among his comments were some words about U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Belfair. Chopp said Dicks came to him with a list of items he wanted done in the Legislature in 2007.

“I think I got through every one this year, except one, and we won’t mention that one.”

We can all assume, if we want, what he mean by the one he missed, but I didn’t. I talked with him after and asked him what the “one” was. He didn’t want to say. “Can I guess?” I asked. Yes, I could guess, then he said there wasn’t a lot of local (legislative) support, which over and over is the reason cited. Chopp said it. Grant Lynch said it. Margarita Prentice said it.

Local legislative support. There’s your answer.

Bottom Up

Steven Gardner writes:

A story in the Winston-Salem Journal is made up mostly of an interview with ISC’s Grant Lynch, who again reflects on what happened with ISC’s push here. The reporter also speculates that a lack of a “bottom up” approach to getting support has hurt the sport.

The problems the France family have run into recently in gaining political support for new tracks could be tied to Reynolds’ withdrawal from the sport three years ago and the failure of NASCAR to put together a solid grass-roots racing program nationally to succeed the Winston Racing Series.

Lynch discussed the public money question.

Lynch said that track owner Bruton Smith might have a point when he said that he built Texas Motor Speedway with his own money and suggested that the Frances might have been more successful if they had also taken that approach in the Seattle area.

“That is legitimate … but then he also said that may be because he hasn’t been successful in getting public funds,” Lynch said with a grin. “Now we’ve done it successfully (most notably in Kansas), and unsuccessfully. But that doesn’t mean we’re going to give up.

No Soliciting

Steven Gardner writes:

The Bainbridge Island Review has a story about state Sen. Phil Rockefeller, D-Bainbridge Island, considering legislation that could stop those who want state help in paying for entertainment venues. If not stop, then new rules to at least make the process tougher to begin with.

“We need a more disciplined approach in dealing with these folks,” he said. “We need ground rules.”

The first-term senator plans to review past projects that used public funds to build large venues for the Seattle Seahawks and Seattle Mariners, and to refurbish Key Arena for the Sonics a decade ago.

“We should look at these and make damn sure this process is not being abused and that we are at least breaking even,” he said.

Rockefeller believes the state’s gifts to corporations are unconstitutional and that businesses are finessing the rules to get what they want. Beyond that, there was lots of concern that NASCAR and the Sonics proposals took focus away from other things he and many others believed were more important.

Obviously, Lt. Gov. Brad Owen didn’t think so. Owen called the NASCAR legislation the most important project in his years of being in the Legislature, and he was around when the Legislature made its deal with Boeing, kept the Mariners from leaving and sent a Seahawks measure to voters.

Note: On another occasion I linked to a story published by the company that owns the Review. The link didn’t work for long. If this one doesn’t, use the search function on the Review’s front page to find the story.

Oregon Chatter

Steven Gardner writes:

The Oregonian had a story Monday about Oregon’s renewed efforts to get ISC to build a track there. Bear in mind, it doesn’t sound much different than how things started here. There are a few well-connected people looking for sites, but the general public down there has not had a speedway presented as a real proposal.

Here’s how the reporter characterized what happened in Kitsap County:

The latest to say no was Kitsap County after originally courting the International Speedway Corp., operators of 12 tracks nationwide that host Nextel Cup series events. County leaders backed off when local opposition emerged and the state was unwilling to pay for half the cost of a track.

But wait, there’s more:

Then leaders of Kitsap County invited Great Western to see privately-owned land that the county hoped to buy for a track, but they ended up backing out when residents said they were worried about drainage issues, traffic, noise and pollution.

Kitsap critics were unconvinced even when NASCAR officials promised to build their first “green” racetrack to capture all runoff water and control noise and pollution, and said they also would partner with a company that has managed traffic for large multi-day events such as the U.S.-hosted World Cup soccer tournament and the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics.

Well, OK then.

I spoke with Grant Lynch and he said the company is going to have to see a greater demonstration of top-to-bottom political support from an area before it would decide to spend any more time or money trying to locate in Washington, but he said he has been hearing from people in Eastern Washington.

Boardman, Ore. is also still in the mix, though not for ISC. Instead of “banking” on NASCAR, there are plans to spend $50 million to build four miles of track suitable for open-wheel racing. You may recall that last summer, the folks in Boardman were still talking NASCAR.

Do You See What We’re Missing?

Steven Gardner writes:

California boy Jeff Gordon, described by Brian Strickland as “the wine-cooler to the Earnhardt fans’ beer bash” won his 76th race last weekend, tying him with the late Dale Earnhardt Sr. In tribute, something he had cleared with the Intimidator’s offspring, he flew a number 3 flag out his window during the victory lap.

Were Senior’s fans touched. Heck no.

“Based on the reception he received, you would have thought he’d thrown three fingers out the window… and then peeled back two.”

We’ll miss out on this kind of drama. These are the kind of fans we could have had commuting into our backyard a couple weekends a year.

When I went to Fontana the drivers were circling the oval prior to the race and I saw one guy, about 50 rows from the track deliver a double-barrelled bird to someone below, following it with cheers for someone else. I have no idea who he was rooting for. Neither do the drivers. I might have been the only one who noticed the guy, what with the noise being so loud.

In all seriousness, I didn’t see anything at Fontana to suggest NASCAR fans were any less well behaved than those I see regularly in the bleachers at Safeco or the ones I used to sit with at Dodger Stadium. Heck, I once got myself kicked out of Dodger Stadium, so who am I to cast judgment? The folks in Fontana were spirited, but not unruly. Then again, Jeff Gordon didn’t win.

Chopp’s Regret

Steven Gardner writes:

David Postman at the Seattle Times’ Postman on Politics blog and Chris McGann at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer’s Strange Bedfellows blog included House Speaker Frank Chopp’s one regret from the 2007 Legislature.

Said Chopp:

“Let me say, actually I thought I made a mistake when I talked about Petty, Richard Petty. I just thought that was, well, stupid and thought it was inappropriate. And I really get down on myself when I do something wrong that might have hurt somebody. I had no right saying that. I meant it as a joke. But I agonized over that. I think it was wrong what I did.”

Kentucky Kentinues

Steven Gardner writes:

Opponents of the track argued that ISC couldn’t guarantee a Nextel Cup race in Kitsap County. Technically it was true. Supporters countered that since both NASCAR and ISC are owned by the France family, the ISC part of the family wasn’t going to make a huge investment here unless there was a pretty solid wink of approval from the NASCAR part of the family. It wasn’t just supporters saying that, either. I heard a NASCAR reporter say the same thing. So I think that if the current structure remained in place, both sides were right. Technically there could be no guarantee, but c’mon.

The major hitch in the conversation, however, continues in Kentucky, where the people who built a speedway are arguing that the arms-length relationship between ISC, a public company, and NASCAR, which is private, is illusory.

Read Bob Pockrass’ story at the NASCAR-fan site SceneDaily on some of the allegations by the owners of the Kentucky Speedway.

Kentucky Speedway alleges that NASCAR, the sanctioning body and a privately owned company by the France family, conspires with ISC, a publicly traded company that operates tracks and whose majority of voting stock is owned by the France family, to award Nextel Cup races to ISC tracks.

NASCAR and ISC have denied the allegations of the original lawsuit, filed in July 2005. The new complaint is much more detailed in its allegations.

The Kentucky owners have dropped a demand for a Nextel Cup race in favor of an objective method of choosing tracks for the most coveted races. The big one, though, is it wants the France family to either sell off NASCAR or ISC.

“The actions of NASCAR and ISC in shutting out competition make the most egregious tactics of NASCAR drivers fighting for position look like a leisurely Sunday afternoon drive in the country,” the lawsuit states. “They have hurt race fans by causing higher ticket prices and creating fewer options to watch their favorite drivers.”

Should ISC lose this battle, the impact on wherever ISC wants to develop could be huge. No longer would proponents be able to tout the wink, wink, nudge, nudge relationship between the two companies owned by the same family. That could have been a big deal here, though I would guess the fact that there are no other races close to here would be a positive for Kitsap in any objective standard. I can’t imagine them leaving geography out.

Stuff I Read This Week

Steven Gardner writes:

Three items I read this week are pertinent to the discussion here. Two deal with NASCAR’s ratings. One is about the Sonics deal in the Legislature.

The New York Times addressed NASCAR’s ratings.

H. A. Wheeler, longtime race promoter and president of Lowe’s Motor Speedway in North Carolina, said that Nascar is in transition as it struggles to straddle two worlds.

“Are we moonshiners, country music, banjos and Route 66?” said Wheeler, who is known as Humpy. “Or are we merlot and Rodeo Drive? We just have to settle down and say: ‘Is this what we want? Exactly who are we?’ ”

The comment at the end of the story was telling.

In the Los Angeles Times Ed Hinton addresses the same idea, but does a good job providing context to NASCAR’s recent decline.

If NASCAR is running a ratings fever, then the NBA is burning up. On the same Sunday as the Bristol race’s 17-point ratings dip, the NBA ratings for nationally televised games dropped 29% from last year . . .

The Texas race was easily the most-watched sports event of last weekend, drawing a 5.6 in the final Nielsen ratings released Thursday, to 2.2 for the NBA’s most popular game, both nationally and in Texas, the Dallas Mavericks vs. the San Antonio Spurs.

Major League Baseball managed only a 2.4 cumulative for regional games, the PGA Tour a 1.9, the LPGA a 1.3 and the NHL playoffs 1.3.

Year-round, NASCAR remains a solid second to the NFL in ratings.

In Seattle David Postman asks, Did Semantics Kill the Sonics Arena?

Several of the lawmakers who met with Gov. Chris Gregoire this afternoon to talk about a financing plan for the Sonic said the deal was doomed this session because it focused too much on basketball. There may not be support for a basketball arena, they said, but there could be for a “multi-purpose facility” with a basketball team as the key tenant.

In Christopher Dunagan’s story about the proposed track property being in limbo, some of the same kind of conversation took place.

Ben Pecora, director of Kitsap Sports Council, said he has been working with community groups to expand ball fields and other sports venues throughout Kitsap County. He said he had been talking with ISC about using the site for community events.

“I couldn’t believe there wasn’t more emphasis on developing space around the track for fields,” he said. “There just aren’t enough places for people to play.”

Track supporters did try to sell the idea using the site as home to a new place for local events, such as business conferences, scouting events and soccer games.

It’s as true as Renton arena fans talking about having a major political party convention in town one day. I mean it could happen. Other stuff will happen too. But we’re not doing any of this for that, anymore than I’d put an elephant in my front yard for the fertilizer.


Steven Gardner writes:

Was it just a few weeks ago that we were all enmeshed in a semantic wrangle over the speedway? Pretty much the whole world began napping on the entire subject soon after ISC’s jump off the cliff (before it got pushed). You all kept the teeter-totter going longer than most, but it’s clear your legs are getting tired.

Meanwhile I’ve rediscovered things such as the Bremerton School District, cruisers, car tabs and a kid from Bremerton who now lives in Blacksburg, Va. and was close to a national tragedy. I’ve also found myself losing interest in the races now that Kasey Kahne is having an awful year and it looks like the track issue won’t be consuming my life anymore.

May I remind the court that in addition to the news stories, you can find scintillating information on the Bremerton Beat blog.

Lest ye fret, however, that we are done with the NASCAR issue, may I further remind the court that we do still have a couple stories planned as follow-ups before we close the books on this issue forever. I probably best keep those plans under my Wonder Bread cap for now, else some wily competitor will get a jump on us.

Smaller speedway planned

Christopher Dunagan writes:
I had a conversation this morning with Ken Mahan, chairman of the board for Bremerton Motorsports Park. I tried to reach hiim yesterday for my story about what should happen to the property which had been proposed for a NASCAR speedway, but we failed to make connections.
Bremerton Motorsports Park has been looking for a new location since before ISC came onto the scene. The drag strip is located on property connected with Bremerton National Airport, but track promoters have been asked to relocated the facility in case the airport needs the land.
Mahan told me more than a year ago that he and other organizers would wait to see what happens with ISC and then coordinate with the big corporation, if possible.
Now, he’s about to get started on a much more localized effort to relocate the drag strip and possibly add an oval track. He said a track like the one at Elma could be one model. That track, known as Grays Harbor Raceway, seats 6,100 in the grandstands.
Mahan wasn’t sure whether the IMPRA zoning created for ISC would help his organization, but he didn’t want anything to happen to take away from the effort. He has contacted County Commissioner Josh Brown to make sure he understands the perspective from Bremerton Motorsports Park.

Sonics Bill Moves

Steven Gardner writes:

The bill that would fund the Sonics arena in Renton moved out of the Ways & Means Committee Friday. As some of you have suspected, state Sen. Phil Rockefeller, D-Bainbridge Island, was among those voting to send the matter on. I asked him to respond to some of the complaints leveled here. Here it is:

Steve, the proposal we voted on in Ways and Means today (SSWB 5986) eliminates the use of a state sales tax credit as a financing mechanism for the construction of the events center which may become the eventual location of the Sonics. In the Committee meeting I spoke to that fundamental shift in the approach taken by the proponents of the bill, which protects state taxpayers from subsidizing the construction of the facility. I think the reason they made the shift was because they realized that the use of state tax dollars in this manner is not acceptable to the vast majority of taxpayers around the State, or to most legislators, as became abundantly clear during the prior consideration of the ISC track proposal. So, it seems to me that the Sonics’ proponents decided not to make the same mistake.

I haven’t read the Sonics bill, but the Seattle P-I’s “Strange Bedfellows” blog provides the major details of the funding mechanism.

In reading an earlier explanation of the bill, it looks to me that a sales tax credit was part of the funding for the arena, but now it would only be used as coverage for the bonds. The revenue that would pay for construction would come from extensions on car rental and hotel/motel taxes.

Now, perhaps I’ve missed something, but that’s how it reads to me.

There are varying opinions on the bill’s ultimate chances, but getting out of Ways & Means might be a surprise. It goes to Rules now. In theory it could die there, but more than likely it will get sent to the floor.

Short Clips

Steven Gardner writes:

We haven’t done much with other media coverage since the ISC-Washington courtship ended. I found a few that were worth noting.

In Spokane they discuss whether NASCAR would ever come east.

“Probably not, though the possibility teases the imagination like the sixth gear on a Ferrari.”

Before ISC’s departure the Bainbridge Island Review took a shot at the NASCAR culture in an editorial about same-day voter registration.

“We concede it’s unlikely that any new-age swamis will be hijacking Washington elections anytime soon (although we wouldn’t put it past NASCAR to bus in a few thousand yokels to vote for a racetrack).”

This isn’t the first reference of this kind from the Review. In April 2005 it opined:

“As to public financing, to be sure, we have recently seen huge public subsidies for Seattle’s baseball and football stadiums. But those were for spectator sports that have proven quite popular for decades, far longer than the faddish spectacle of loud cars droning in circles while yahoos wave Confederate flags in the stands.”

And fellow Covina High School alum Cathy Sorbo referenced NASCAR in a column about the power of saying “no” and compares efforts such as this one to the movie “A Bug’s Life.”

“Fast-forward to the part where the ants realize that if they all band together, they can use their strength of number to force the grasshoppers to back off forever — see what I am getting at?”

Of course, the links and the interest are waning, but we still have a few fish to fry on this.

Carbon Neutrality

Steven Gardner writes:

Hat tip to Jake for linking to this story in one of his comments. It seems Portland is working to figure out if it can make its racetrack carbon-neutral.

Though auto racing doesn’t spring to mind when one thinks of environmental-friendly sports, track manager Mark Wigginton told The Oregonian newspaper that the raceway has already been thinking green.

“We’re a park, a motor sports park,” Wigginton said. “We already do a lot of things that people don’t think about.”

This is one of the reasons people down in that part of the Pacific Northwest say, “Seattle is for people who don’t know about Portland.” I’m not necessarily saying I agree, I’m just sayin’.


Steven Gardner writes:

A little joke turned into a full blown rumor, it appears. I just found out how the jail story may have started.

First the backstory. When I wrote the story about the local reaction to ISC’s decision to bail on Kitsap, I ran into Dee Coppola in the Fred Meyer in Port Orchard. She asked what economic development the county has allowed South Kitsap to have, other than the jail.

My first thought she was talking about the one already built in Port Orchard, but then you guys started writing about a rumor that the Department of Corrections was interested in the site the Overtons would have sold to ISC. So I called DOC.

The department is not looking at any property in Kitsap County at this time.

Apparently, this rumor started when someone, I don’t know who, made up a pretty convincing press release from the Department of Corrections, dated April 1, saying DOC was pursuing a site in SKIA. It was a joke, an April Fool’s joke. The word got out and was taken seriously.

You also started writing about Toyota, and since Josh Brown used the company as a hypothetical example in talking about tax breaks,

He said if Toyota wanted to build a plant on the site near the Bremerton National Airport for the speedway, “Would we make Toyota pay $7.5 to $15 million in back timber taxes? I don’t think we would.”

I thought I’d check on that rumor as well. Chances are, that’s where the rumor originated.

Still checking. I’m not expecting to get anything verified, since most land deals are discussed in private long before they’re revealed.

As for Toyota, the company just opened a truck plant in San Antonio late last year and has other plants in other U.S. cities and in Mexico. There’s no mention anywhere that I’ve looked that the company is looking for more.

And I’m aware that this seems highly unlikely, but as a reporter I’ll tell you I’d hate to miss it if it were true.