Developer green flags NASCAR track for South Kitsap

PORT ORCHARD — The International Speedway Corp. announced Thursday it wants to build a NASCAR track on a 950-acre site along State Route 3 near the Bremerton National Airport.

While the announcement ended a 20-month waiting game, it raised more questions than answers.

ISC officials envision the project as a $250 million public/private partnership with a track length of 7-8 of a mile to 1.2 miles. Exact figures of what taxpayers would be accountable for were unavailable.

They also could not say when they would break ground or run the first race, although the latter won’t be until at least 2010 — depending on how vocal opposition to the plan is.

According to Grant Lynch, ISC vice president, Kitsap was selected after scouting 40 other locations. If built, it would be the first NASCAR track in the Pacific Northwest. Currently the closest NASCAR race is at Infineon Raceway road course located north of San Francisco in Sonoma, Calif. The nearest oval-shaped track on the West Coast is the ISC-owned California Speedway located outside of Los Angeles.

Lynch said the shape of the land would allow the construction of a “bowl” facility with a center area lower than the sides.

This configuration would reduce noise. He also promised to maintain the region’s unique character.

“In Kansas (at the Kansas Motor Speedway), we took 1,000 acres and just cleared it off,” he said. “Here, we are going to leave trees when we can.”

Kitsap County was NASCAR’s second choice after a deal to build a track in Snohomish County along I-5 near Marysville fell apart after county officials there couldn’t agree on the public financing.

That, according to state Sen. Tim Sheldon (D-Potlatch), won’t happen here.

“We need to make the public aware that there will be no new taxes to support this,” said Sheldon, a long-time track proponent. “We will benefit from the increased tax revenue, and will raise money through bond issues.”

While new tax revenue is a long time coming, Lynch said that the region would immediately benefit from the creation of 3,000 new construction jobs.

“I’m very pleased,” said Kitsap Economic Development Council Director David Porter. “It speaks well for Kitsap County that they chose us. This is very good news.”

Porter feels the fact that Kitsap was essentially the second choice is also a good thing. “From watching what happened in Snohomish, we can learn from their mistakes,” he said.

The Kitsap site has its own difficulties. State Route 3 and the Gorst interchange do not have the capacity to handle the large amount of expected traffic of 80,000-plus predominately out-of-town fans for a NASCAR race.

And while county officials have supported a track here, none were present at Thursday’s announcement. They have previously indicated they will begin having public hearings about the site once they have a more detailed proposal.

Kitsap’s advantages, according to Lynch, include its proximity to a top media market, a large number of available hotel rooms (factoring in the Seattle-Tacoma area) and a stable and efficient transportation system, including the Washington State Ferries.

The facility would have 80,000 seats. Additionally, it will supply 68 hospitality suites and 100 “hospitality chalets” (parking lot tents).

ISC said it plans on having two major race weekends a year.

At other tracks it owns, such as Kansas Speedway, that means a Craftsman Truck Series on one weekend, with another weekend for the Busch Series and/or Nextel Cup. ISC has not guaranteed a highly sought-after Nextel Cup race will come to the track.

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