Bruton Smith may ask NC for help for Charlotte Motor Speedway upgrades

NASCAR titan Bruton Smith told Gov. Pat McCrory Thursday that he wants to spend $100 million to improve Charlotte Motor Speedway, and then appeared to suggest he might ask the state for financial assistance.

Smith was speaking with McCrory at a proclamation to name May as “Motorsports Month,” when he told the Republican governor he wanted to improve his track, according to a video posted by WBTV’s website.

“While you are here, I want to find some time to talk to you,” Smith told McCrory. “We want to spend $100 million here to improve our situation. I would certainly want to have you say, ‘That’s a good thing.’ ”

Smith then added: “We only want to spend $100 million, OK? Downtown Charlotte is spending $88 million on something that was built a few years ago. Well, I built this place in 1960. That was awhile back.”

“Do you want me to come and see you and talk to you, or do you want to do it right here?” Smith asked McCrory, according to the WBTV video.

The governor, standing beside Smith, demurred.

“I just came back from the prayer group breakfast, why don’t we do it later,” McCrory said.

Smith’s mention of downtown Charlotte spending $88 million appears to refer to the Charlotte City Council voting last year to give the Carolina Panthers $87.5 million to renovate Bank of America Stadium, which opened in 1996.

The General Assembly in Raleigh gave the city the ability to use Convention Center dollars for the Panthers, but legislators and the governor’s office declined to help the NFL team with state money.

Scott Cooper, a spokesperson for the speedway, downplayed Smith’s comments.

“He made a lighthearted proclamation,” Cooper told the Observer. “He said playfully with the governor, ‘We want to spend $100 million. I want to talk to you about it.’ ”

He said the speedway “doesn’t have a plan to announce or anything to announce.”

Smith didn’t return phone calls from the Observer Thursday.

McCrory was asked about Smith’s comments later Thursday at a new Huntersville Department of Motor Vehicles office, where he was speaking about his DMV reforms.

“No, I’m not going to respond to that,” McCrory said. “I have no idea what he was referring to. That’s what we love about Bruton.”

Joshua Ellis, a spokesperson for the McCrory, said, “There won’t be money for any stadiums in the governor’s budget.”

Smith has sought public subsidies before, as other local sports owners have.

In 2007, Smith threatened to build a new speedway somewhere else in the Charlotte region after he and the city of Concord struggled to come to agreement over Smith’s plans to build a drag strip.

Concord reversed itself and said it would approve the dragway. The city and Cabarrus County also offered to provide $60 million to improve infrastructure at Smith’s racing complex.

Smith’s company, Speedway Motorsports Inc., refused the offer.

The next day, the local governments increased their assistance package, offering $80 million in tax breaks, grants and other “city and county-controlled revenues” to pay for speedway improvements.

Smith built his drag strip, which opened in August 2008.

Court documents say it required Smith and his companies to make their speedway improvements within three years. But the terms would have given the local governments up to 40 years to reimburse the speedway for their work.

Smith wanted the money sooner and sued the city and county over the terms of the agreement.

Last fall, the N.C. Court of Appeals unanimously upheld a lower court’s ruling dismissing Smith’s claims. The judges said Smith and the speedway did not have a formal contract with local governments.

The city of Charlotte is reviewing a request by the Charlotte Bobcats and the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority to spend more than $40 million on improvements to Time Warner Cable Arena, which opened in 2005.

City officials have also said they may be negotiating again with the Panthers over additional improvements to the stadium. The team is currently building new scoreboards and escalators to the stadium.

The speedway hosts two NASCAR Sprint Cup events, including the Coca-Cola 600 in May. It also hosts the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race.

Concord Mayor Scott Padgett couldn’t be reached for comment Thursday. Joe Marusak contributed.

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