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North Carolina Budget Would Revitalize Rockingham, North Wilkesboro

Gov. Roy Cooper could vote on the bill by Friday if it passes the General Assembly


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North Carolina lawmakers in the House and Senate have released a budget proposal that would issue millions of dollars to state speedways and short tracks.

The General Assembly have debated since August over how to spend the $5.7 billion earmarked for North Carolina as part of the federal American Rescue Plan.

The proposal calls for $18 million to Wilkes County to coordinate with local government for water, sewer and infrastructure upgrades for North Wilkesboro Speedway. An additional $13 million would be allocated to the City of Concord for similar improvements to Charlotte Motor Speedway. Rockingham Speedway is currently designated to receive $9 million.

The budget also allots $1 million to state short track and grassroots facilities through the Department of Commerce.

The motorsports industry contributes over $5 billion to the North Carolina economy each year.

Rockingham and North Wilkesboro are currently inactive -- although there was a planned CARS Tour Late Model Stock event scheduled for The Rock in October. That event was canceled due to the national tire shortage preventing the creation of a custom tire.

The Rock Entertainment Complex is now owned by Raleigh based land developer Dan Lovenheim. The property has courted numerous festivals and concerts, hosting The Epicenter festival in 2019. It hasn't hosted a NASCAR event since a Truck Series and ARCA doubleheader in 2013.

Superstar Racing Experience has teased racing at North Wilkesboro, a venue that has fallen into disrepair but has constantly been the subject of possible revitalization conversations over the years, but none as viable as this.

North Wilkesboro, still owned by Speedway Motorsports Inc., hasn't hosted a NASCAR event since 1996. A series of revival events featuring Late Models and Modifieds took place in 2010 and 2011.

Camping World CEO Marcus Lemonis, who is opening a Gander Mountain store in the county, has also pledged a million towards revitalizing NASCAR’s once-oldest track and has expressed interest in building a store on the property.

To request aid, a smaller venue must meet the following criteria:

  • For calendar years 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2021, the venue annually held at least two racing events for motorsports vehicles powered by engines with at least four cylinders, for which event admissions were charged for spectators, and for which participants received prize money for winning, points in a points standing scheme used for comparing competitors participating across multiple motorsports racing events or both.
  • For calendar years 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2021, the venue maintained continuous and uninterrupted track general liability insurance and participant or competitor insurance.
  • For calendar year 2020, the venue shows economic loss. For purposes of this subsection, economic loss means a reduction in gross receipts from reported gate admissions when compared to the yearly average gross receipts from reported gate admissions from calendar years 2017, 2018 and 2019.

Additionally, racing venues are eligible for up to $5 million in grants 'to enhance amenities and increase opportunities for events at motorsport venues in recognition of the impact those events have on local tourism, travel and hospitality industries.' A track must apply by the end of 2022.

To be eligible for the grant, a venue within the state must currently be sanctioned by NASCAR, NHRA, IHRA or have hosted a NASCAR Cup Series race on or after September 29, 1996. That date is not arbitrary as the final Cup Series at North Wilkesboro was held on that Sunday afternoon.

Votes are expected over the next three days in the Senate, then the House, with the Republican majority General Assembly sending a budget to Democrat Gov. Roy Cooper by Friday.

If Cooper vetoed the budget, and Democrats don’t support the Republicans in an override, Republican legislators would likely spend miniature spending bills so the state could gain access to available federal money. The overall state budget that has been in place since 2019 would remain in place.

Cooper could choose to wait 10 days without signing or vetoing the plan, which would allow it to become law.