Sports

Kent's Pacific Raceways planning $135 million renovation

By CASEY OLSON

The Mirror

The owners of Kent’s Pacific Raceways want to bring big-time auto racing to the Pacific Northwest.

And they want to do it with no money from taxpayers.

Too good to be true? Not according to Pacific Raceways president Jason Fiorito.

Fiorito is proposing a $135 million project that calls for major renovations to the 320-acre racing facility off of State Route 18. The proposal includes the relocation of the 1/4-mile asphalt drag strip, construction of a paved short-track oval and improvements to the current road course, among other things.

“We call for no public funding whatsoever,” Fiorito said on Pacific Raceways’ Web site.

That is in stark contrast to the proposal being floated in Kitsap County, where there is a push for a publicly-financed NASCAR track. The Kitsap proposal calls for $166 million of public funding to construct an oval speedway specifically designed to host a NASCAR Nextel Cup event in the future.

“What we are proposing is to upgrade our road race facility to allow us to host NASCAR,” Fiorito said. “But our business plan doesn’t really depend on it.”

International Speedway Corp. announced plans last November to build an 83,000-seat race track on 950 acres south of the Bremerton airport with the hope of bringing a Nextel Cup race to the Pacific Northwest. The $345 million track would be publicly owned.

The possibility of a NASCAR race coming to Pacific Raceways would be more of a long shot because the Kent track could only host a road race on its 2.25-mile course. NASCAR hasn’t expressed much of an interest in adding another road race to its season schedule.

There are currently two road courses that host events in Watkins Glen, N.Y., and Sonoma, Calif.

“At the end of our proposal, we would have a road course capable of hosting their event similar to New York and Somoma,” Fiorito said. “I would say that the Kitsap Peninsula site has some traffic issues and its proximity to the major metropolitan area is not as good as our proximity. We have all the infrastructure to support a Nextel Cup race.”

Currently, Pacific Raceways, which was built in 1959, hosts about 300 events a year. Events include sportsman races, motocross and car shows, along with the track’s biggest and most profitable event of the year — the National Hot Rod Association race, which takes place later this month.

The $1.9 million, three-day national event attracts an estimated 80,000 fans to the Kent race track and generates millions of dollars into the local economy.

If the new renovation project is approved, the new 1/4-mile asphalt drag strip could begin as early as next spring. The drag strip will be relocated and ready for racing in either 2008 or 2009, Fiorito said.

The new strip would be sunken into the ground and would run north and south, parallel to Highway 18. Racers have complained about the glaring sun while driving east to west on the current track.

The new drag strip would also provide better access for drivers and race teams off of Highway 18.

While the new drag strip is being constructed, the current course will remain open for sportsman and pro drivers. The NHRA is currently in the second year of a five-year option at Pacific Raceways.

Fiorito, whose family owns and operates the facility, has already made $5 million in improvements at Pacific Raceways since taking control of the complex in 2002.

The Fioritos plan to fund $15 million of the proposed improvements on money generated from gravel removed from the site. The remaining revenue will come through loans.

Gravel would be removed to lower track surfaces into the ground about 20 feet to reduce the sound coming from the track.

But the proposed renovation of Pacific Raceways will go a lot further than just upgrading the 2.25-mile road course and constructing a new drag strip. Plans also have the facility building a new pit/parking area; a world-class shift kart track; a 3/8-mile paved oval track and grandstand capable of hosting sprint and short-track stock car racing; a 300-foot skid pad for driver education; all new offices; and club house facility with restaurants, over 500,000 square feet of commercial and industrial offices and a dirt bike motocross track.

Sports editor Casey Olson: 925-5565, sports@fedwaymirror.com

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