NASCAR suggests caution on Middle River racetrack project


The developers of a proposed auto racetrack in eastern Baltimore County say their project would put Middle River in the winner's circle, but NASCAR is waving a caution flag.

"The conversations haven't gone the way they [the developers] would have wanted it," said Michael Helton, vice president for competition at the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing, the organization that sanctions major stock car races. "We explained to them that our schedules are pretty full."

Edward H. Berge Jr. and Christopher Steuart, developers of the proposed Essex International Speedway, have been working for two years to realize their dream of building an auto racetrack. They have an option to buy one of the last large tracts of undeveloped property in the eastern county -- a 1,000-acre parcel off Eastern Boulevard known as the A. V. Williams property.

But the men say they will not proceed until they are assured of two races from either NASCAR, which sanctions races such as the Daytona 500, or IndyCar, which sanctions the series featuring open cockpit cars, such as the ones in the Indianapolis 500.

Mr. Berge said Monday that IndyCar will not make a commitment until NASCAR does. He and his partner are hoping NASCAR will make a decision by the end of next month.

But Mr. Helton said it could be months before a decision is made.

Mr. Helton, who oversees arrangements with local racetracks, said Baltimore County will not be given a Winston Cup race, NASCAR's premier race series. He said it is possible that the Middle River track could be granted a date in the Busch Grand National series, NASCAR's second racing tier.

However, he said NASCAR must be sure that the developers have the community support and financial wherewithal to complete the project.

Local race fans and the Baltimore Eastern Area Chamber of Commerce support the project, but county officials have expressed doubts that a track would make the best use of the property, which could be key to revitalizing Essex-Middle River.

Mr. Helton said the county's chances of winning a NASCAR event are hurt by its proximity to tracks in Dover, Del., and Richmond, Va., which hold both Winston Cup and Busch Grand National races.

Also, Mr. Helton pointed out, only once has NASCAR granted race dates to a track that wasn't built. Recently NASCAR made an exception to enter the Los Angeles market.

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