NASCAR has no intention of bringing Busch Grand National auto racing to this area and was surprised by a recent announcement by the Middle River Racing Association, which is trying to build a racetrack in Anne Arundel County, that it had landed the series.
The Timonium-based track developers announced last month at a news conference that the small South Boston Speedway in Virginia was "excited about the opportunity" to give its Busch events to the MRRA starting in 2000 -- the year developers hope to have their $100 million track built. Industry experts say the scheduling of NASCAR events, which consistently draw large crowds, can make or break large speedways.
But NASCAR's vice president of competition, Mike Helton, said yesterday that South Boston Speedway does not have an event sanctioned for 2000 and lacks the authority to give away events. He called the MRRA's statements inaccurate, premature and unethical.
"We got a copy of [MRRA's] press release a little while ago and got in contact with them," Helton said. "A promoter does not have any right to sanction events for NASCAR. We have been very consistent, and it is stated in our rule book that only NASCAR can sanction its races. We don't even have our 1999 schedule set, let alone [a schedule for 2000].
"We have consistently told [the MRRA] we are not interested in Baltimore," he added. "The market there is already saturated with races. We have said that all along."
The MRRA does not respond to questions from The Sun. But in response to a faxed request for information, it issued this statement from Mike Alfinito, the MRRA's director of corporate communications: "We understand NASCAR's position, as it was expressed to [The Sun], and we would be pleased to talk to NASCAR about it. We believe that the matter of relocating events involves the interests of numerous NASCAR constituencies."
Alfinito also wrote that the group's goal is to hold a NASCAR event "with the blessing and support of NASCAR and the motor-sports industry," and to "resolve the outstanding issues."
South Boston track owner Mason Day also issued a statement in response to NASCAR's comments: "When the new facility was announced I felt this would be a great opportunity for NASCAR and the Busch series. If this indeed does materialize, it will be under NASCAR's blessings for the year 2000."
The MRRA's announcement hailing the Busch series came hours before a tumultuous County Council meeting April 20 that ended with the council's giving the go-ahead for construction of the track on the Pasadena peninsula.
The track has been a source of controversy since last year, when the racing group abandoned the Baltimore County site it is named for and sought a warmer welcome in western Anne Arundel. Residents of Russett were no happier about the proposal.
Next, the racing group proposed building in Pasadena on a former copper refinery site owned by the Maryland Port Authority.
County residents remain divided between race fans excited about bringing the country's fastest growing sport to the area and those who dread possible increases of noise, pollution and traffic.
Yesterday, Mary Rosso, a citizen advocate who opposes the track, said, "They have absolutely lied to the public. It's not a surprise because they have fudged all along on their figures and their facts. It says they are not a credible company."
"What they ultimately did was deceive the public," agreed council member Diane R. Evans, who voted against the track. "These issues could have come out, but because things were rushed through the council, there was no way for the public to know. Perhaps this was a reason it was shoved through the council because surely they must have known [NASCAR's position]."
Track opponents have questioned the MRRA's estimates of the track's favorable economic impact and job opportunities.
The racing group says the track will generate $178 million in revenue, a figure possible only if the group can fill the stadium at least three times a year. NASCAR is the only racing group that regularly fills that many stadium seats.
Some county officials insist the track will be an economic boon. Bob Burdon, president of the Anne Arundel Trade Council, said he believes the group can bring major races to the area -- if not NASCAR, then another series.
"These people are putting up millions of dollars of their own money," he said. "They are astute business people. They are not relying on money from other sources, and it's very seldom you see that amount of money put up without an assurance of success."
MRRA President Ed Berge has said he and his wife, Melissa, daughter of the founder of Cellular One, will finance the project. The group is likely, however, to seek state funds to help pay for cleaning the site that, by some accounts, is an environmental mess.
NASCAR's Helton said the organization will continue to talk with the MRRA's Joe Mattioli III, whom he knows from Mattioli's tenure as chief operating officer of the Pocono Raceway, which his parents founded.
When asked why someone with years of racing experience would violate NASCAR's rules, Helton said: "Maybe he forgot about them."
Pub Date: 5/08/98