Hee hee hee. Go on and laugh. Lowe's Motor Speedway owner Bruton Smith inspires a few chuckles. Some tears too, we imagine. Oh, and a lot of anger.
Just ask the folks in Cabarrus County. The billionaire suckered local government officials there to give him the sweetest deal imaginable. Now he wants an even sweeter deal. And though he might not get all he's asking for, he's got a good chance of getting some of it.
Law enforcers have it right: Never pay the blackmailer. He'll only come back for more.
The fight started last fall over construction of a drag strip. Bruton Smith held the best hand then. Concord City Council members had pulled the plug on the drag strip after the speedway began grading land for it without notifying the city or getting the required permits. Nearby residents organized opposition and told council members the site was too close to them and would be too noisy.
Mr. Smith, not known for playing nice with others, got mad and threatened to shut down the speedway and spend $350 million to build one somewhere else. Faced with the possible loss of a major industry that promised more high-paying jobs and tax revenue, city officials quickly tossed in their hand. They and Cabarrus County also tossed in big bucks – $80 million in incentives. They also agreed to compensate the speedway for about $60 million in road improvements and other upgrades over a 40-year period.
Forty years is too long, the 81-year-old Mr. Smith now says. Let's make that two, maybe three? Hee hee hee.
You would think Mr. Smith doesn't have much to bargain with this time. After all, he's already built the drag strip that was at the heart of this controversy. He can't threaten not to build it now.
But some say Mr. Smith is such an ornery cuss, he might just shut it down and move – even at a loss. We hope the businessman in him wouldn't contemplate such a thing.
No doubt it's the businessman in him that's back at the bargaining table with local leaders, asking for the sky, the moon and the stars. Some would call this greed. He likely calls it “just business.”
Concord and Cabarrus County leaders have got a rattlesnake in their hands, and it just won't quit striking. No matter what officials do, the pain isn't likely stop.