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Track site proposed

April 18, 2002|BY DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

State Sen. Herb Snyder told state racing officials Wednesday he is focusing on a site along Interstate 81 near Inwood, W.Va., for an auto racetrack he is working to have built.

There are up to 3,000 acres of open farmland along the west side of I-81 beside the Inwood exit that could be used for a track, Snyder told members of the West Virginia Motorsports Council during a meeting of the group in Flatwoods Wednesday afternoon.

Much of the land was split up among various owners after the former property owner died, said Snyder, D-Jefferson.

Most of the property owners have not been asked whether they would be willing to sell their land for a racetrack, said Snyder. He said he has come up with a way of turning over land for the track that might be attractive to the owners.

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Snyder said property owners could turn over land in exchange for stock in the track. That method would ease the tax burdens on property owners, Snyder said.

Snyder, who said he has investors interested in funding the construction of the track, previously had said he had a site off Interstate 81 near the Marlowe rest area in mind for the track.

Snyder said he learned, however, that there are only about 312 acres available in that area, not enough for the project.

At least 500 acres are needed for a track, parking and space for a racing museum, Snyder said.

In a presentation that included Eastern Panhandle area maps and charts, Snyder laid out his plan before the Motorsports Council, a newly formed state organization dedicated to promoting existing racing facilities in the state and exploring the potential for new ones.

Snyder said he had the West Virginia University Regional Research Institute help him do a population research report that shows that there are nearly 58 million people within a 300-mile radius of Martinsburg from which a track could pull.

Snyder said the Martinsburg area is an excellent place to locate a racetrack because it is "65 miles from the steps of the nation's capital."

Snyder used another chart that illustrated that eight auto racing events make up a list of the country's top 10 money-making sport events, with the Indianapolis 500 ranked No. 1.

Snyder said racing is "what America wants. And that's what America is spending its money on."

"The hotel-motel industry would explode with this," Snyder said.

The willingness of race car enthusiasts to drive hundreds of miles to see a racing event is something Eric Denemark said he can attest to.

Denemark, the executive director of the Motorsports Council, said racing fans from as far away as Ontario flood into his hometown of Ripley, W.Va., in the southern part of the state, on their way home from racing events at a track in Bristol, Tenn.

"The economic impact is widespread and huge," Denemark said.

Snyder said he is sure there will be opposition to a track, but said such a facility has advantages over residential development because it does not stress the school system.

Snyder said the Inwood site will be developed anyway and county residents must decide whether they want it to be used for houses or a project like his.

Snyder said he doesn't like to see farmland disappear, but keeping it open is "just not the demographics of what's happening up there."

Snyder was questioned about the identity of his backers in the project, but would not provide that information. He said only that two large corporations are interested in building a track.

Spencer Adkins, a race announcer and advisory member of the Motorsports Council, said he was not disappointed by Snyder's reluctance to identify the investors.

"That's pretty standard in business ventures. I'd like to know, but it doesn't disappoint me," Adkins said.

Snyder has asked that the West Virginia Development Office research the feasibility of bringing a track to the state.

During the last legislative session, Snyder sponsored a resolution asking the state economic development office to study the feasibility of a racetrack. The Senate passed the measure, but it died when the House ran out of time to act.

Snyder said state Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin and House Speaker Bob Kiss have told him they will request that the study be conducted.

The study would pinpoint good locations for a track, access to interstates and airports, tax benefits and other issues.

Details on the track, including its size, would be up to a professional planner. Snyder said he's also considering a facility that could host equestrian competitions, concerts or other events.

Motorsports Council members appeared to be supportive of Snyder's proposal, but noted he has a lot of work ahead of him.

Building a track like the one Snyder envisions could take years, said Ashley Ness, a racing promoter and head of the council's marketing committee.

"When you're asking people to put up millions of dollars, it takes a while," Ness said.

Snyder initially promoted the track as a NASCAR facility.

But NASCAR President Mike Helton wrote to Snyder on April 3 asking him to stop referring to the track as a NASCAR facility. NASCAR is not affiliated with the project.

Snyder said Monday he never said that races at the track would be sanctioned by NASCAR, although that is what he had hoped for.

There have been instances in which tracks have been built and later got NASCAR race dates, council members said.

Denemark said he doesn't believe a Martinsburg-area track could attract a top NASCAR race like those in the Winston Cup or Busch Grand National series, but it could attract smaller races.

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