Daytona makes pitch to NASCAR officials

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

The home to the circuit's headquarters also hopes to be the home to its Hall of Fame.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Speedway officials on Tuesday unveiled the design of their bid for a new NASCAR Hall of Fame, a $70 million elliptical complex that would allow visitors to simultaneously watch races and view exhibits about the sport's heroes.

The design could cost considerably less than proposals in four other cities -- Atlanta, Kansas City, Kan., Richmond, Va. and Charlotte, N.C. -- because the track already has unique features like race simulators and an IMAX theater. Daytona International Speedway officials hope that will give them a leg up as the fast-burgeoning circuit decides what city ought to host one of its most public attractions, and which will absorb millions of dollars from the hundreds of thousands of visitors the attraction's expected to annually draw.

A committee of NASCAR officials -- about half of them from Daytona, where the sport is headquartered and where stock car racing was born -- spent Tuesday touring the speedway and investigating the city's proposal. It's the first of the five other city tours scheduled over the next couple of weeks, though NASCAR officials have not said when they will make a final decision.

The plan here would include exhibits that allow guests to drive car simulators corresponding with a real, miniature car they can see, and an interactive eighteen-vehicle tower made of glass and featuring famous winning NASCAR rides that -- when selected -- tell the history of the car. Speedway officials say it's also the only proposal to house the hall directly next to the track.

Daytona backers stressed how local tourism draws like Walt Disney World, the Kennedy Space Center and the annual spring break crowd would afford the hall a year-round audience.

"We offer a full-day guest experience," said John Saboor, executive director of the Central Florida Sports Commission.

Both sides characterized the meeting as positive, but Daytona is battling a possible funding snag. They are potentially the only applicants without public funding to help build the facility -- projected to cost roughly $105 million no matter where it's built.

Speedway officials did their best to put on a good public face for their visitors, drawing about 200 people who gathered in the blazing sun for a morning rally to show support and greet the NASCAR officials.

Local residents, officials and state legislators also wore buttons proudly proclaiming the city "NASCAR's Past, NASCAR's Future." They seemed almost indignant that four other cities are even being considered, given Daytona's proud pedigree for racing and the fact that the circuit itself is headquartered here.

"What's Georgia known for? Peaches?" Speedway President Robin Braig said to a cheering crowd.

"The guys in the black suits, they're the ones we want to impress," Braig said, gesturing to NASCAR officials seated on stage behind him.

George Pyne, chief operating officer for NASCAR, said the committee was impressed with the proposal, but it's early in the process.

"We have four more places to visit," he said.

Charlotte and Richmond are also billing themselves as historic racing towns, while Kansas City officials say it makes the most sense to locate the museum centrally in the country.

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