Petty, Waltrip Talk With Washington State Lawmakers About Track

Thursday, February 22nd 2007, 6:16 am
By: News On 6

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) _ Former NASCAR stars Richard Petty and Darrell Waltrip and current driver Greg Biffle made two pit stops here, trying to persuade state lawmakers to support a $368 million race track proposed for Washington state.

``I'm ready to race,'' Petty said Wednesday evening as he met with supporters before going to a Washington State Labor Council function.

``There's been rumors of racing here about my whole career,'' said Biffle, a Vancouver, Wash., native. ``But I think it's getting pretty close to happening.''

There are pending bills, supported by Lt. Gov. Brad Owen, that would bring an 83,500-seat track to the state.

The proposals have left many lawmakers unimpressed, and powerful House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, said Wednesday he wasn't awed by the star power.

When asked about Petty coming to town, Chopp said, ``He's not a member of the House last time I checked.''

One of the biggest issues for many lawmakers is the proposed location near the Bremerton National Airport in Kitsap County.

Gov. Chris Gregoire has suggested that the project be moved to Lewis County near Interstate 5, about 90 minutes south of Seattle.

That county lost about 600 jobs last year after TransAlta Corp. shut down a coal mine in Centralia.

International Speedway Corp. Vice President Grant Lynch said earlier this week that he was thinking about looking at land in Lewis County, but that the economic model the company has proposed would probably have to change.

The company's proposal calls for taxpayers to pay for about half of the facility, with ISC contributing $180 million. The company says it would pay for any cost overruns on the project. The state share would be paid through bonds. The race track group contends the cost of the bonds would be more than covered by the sales taxes paid by out-of-state race fans.

In addition to the labor council function, ISC spokesman Lenny Santiago said Petty, Waltrip and Biffle also attended a private function at an Olympia restaurant with about 100 supporters and lawmakers.

``We're trying to bring them a little bit of the excitement of NASCAR,'' Santiago said.

According to Chopp, they've got their work cut out for them.

``No one in the House has come to me saying we absolutely have to have NASCAR,'' Chopp said. ``On the other hand I've got lots and lots of people in my caucus saying that they are definitely opposed to the NASCAR proposal.''

Several Kitsap County residents testified against the track at a Senate hearing Tuesday and no Kitsap County lawmakers are signed on as sponsors to the bills.

But Biffle, the hometown kid, still sounded optimistic.

``We're excited about building a race track in the state of Washington,'' he said. ``We're hoping we're able to get it done.''