Atmosphere

Track Stars

The race to find a Colorado home for motorsports.

By
August 2009

NASCAR has the kind of dedicated following that makes every entertainment business jealous: 75 million fans, $3 billion in annual revenue, and the second-largest TV sporting audience in the nation (trailing only the NFL). Once confined to the southeastern quarters of the country, NASCAR has been expanding, attempting to burnish its national reputation with new—and wildly popular—racetracks in Chicago, Las Vegas, and Dallas. The next pit stop, if local boosters have their way, will be the Front Range.

Two local developers, Pat Hamill and Bill Schuck, are working on competing proposals for racetracks in Aurora with the hope of roping in the Sprint Cup, NASCAR's premier race series, known for attracting giant audiences—and cash. The Daytona International Speedway, for example, generates a $1.9 billion economic impact; closer to home, Phoenix International Speedway provides a $473 million bump. A Colorado track would have the benefit of no competitors: The closest current Sprint Cup race is nearly 600 miles away, in Kansas. And if that's not enough encouragement, the Colorado Legislature chipped in this June, passing the Colorado Regional Tourism Act, which promises large, crowd-drawing projects an annual $50 million tax break. The only question left is, who'll break ground first?

Hamill, who hadn't released his proposal at press time, has been working on his project for two years. He also has a strong ally in the International Speedway Corporation (ISC), which owns 12 NASCAR racetracks and runs more than half the Sprint Cup races. (Helpfully, the ISC knows folks on the inside—it's partly owned by NASCAR proprietors the France family.) ISC has long been interested in a Colorado track; in 2005, it bought Pikes Peak International Roadway outside Colorado Springs and immediately closed the modest track, making way for a potential Sprint Cup track. "ISC sees a big gap in its national footprint," says Ray Pittman, a development consultant who works with ISC. "And [a Denver-area track] would be near a town that has a great sports reputation."

ISC's dominance hasn't kept Schuck, a Colorado Springs developer, from jumping in with his $200 million proposed motorsports complex and entertainment venue. "Attempts have been made to [build] a track in the past, but they have failed," says Schuck. "Industry insiders are aware of our plans, and we see a tremendous opportunity to bring in a variety of events to the area."

In a way, Schuck and Hamill are just playing chicken—it really comes down to which developer has the wherewithal to build a track without a guaranteed NASCAR event, says motorsports consultant Brian Turner. Denver, after all, would need to swipe a race from one of the other 22 current Sprint Cup tracks. "In the past, NASCAR has not promised an event to any track before it's built," says Turner. In other words, if we build it, we better pray that they come.