Originally created 11/09/99

Arena racetrack nearly financed; contractor chosen



PITTSBURGH -- The world's first enclosed super speedway will probably be under construction sometime next year, now that financing is nearly in place and a contractor has been hired, according to developers.

The mile oval would not only be one of the largest buildings in the world but also has the potential to reshape the sport of auto racing, much as the Houston Astrodome did in the mid-1960s by moving baseball and football indoors.

And here's the good part: it won't need Astroturf.

"People in racing have talked about this for years, but nobody ever did it, and we plan to do it," said Bob Brant, who, with brother Ted, is developing a $300 million track that would permit racing at any time of the year and in any weather.

The track, to be built about 15 miles from downtown Pittsburgh, originally was to have been three-quarters of a mile in length, rather short for a track that plans to court NASCAR as a primary tenant. So the original design displayed in April was redrawn to make the building slightly bigger and the course one mile in length.

"NASCAR was one of the major considerations," Bob Brant said. "One mile qualifies to be a super speedway, and the more people we talked to, one mile seemed to be the minimal length needed to interest the drivers and the sanctioning bodies."

Former NASCAR champion Cale Yarborough said drivers have talked for years about how much fun it would be to race indoors, "But we never thought we'd see the day it happened."

The arena racetrack would be constructed inside a 2.6-million-square-foot building adjacent to Pittsburgh International Airport. Seating would be for 60,000 spectators, all indoors, and could easily be expanded to 120,000 if promoters land a prime NASCAR date.

NASCAR has no open dates on its calendar, but it seems likely that it would ultimately race in the track, if only because the novelty of an indoor race would be highly promotable.

Also, Pittsburgh is seen as one of NASCAR's biggest untapped markets, with a large fan base that routinely drives hundreds of miles to watch racing at southern tracks.

To eliminate the noise and exhaust fumes that come with auto racing, soundproofing and ventilation systems never before used in such a building are planned.

Eliminating the sound and pumping in air will be largely responsible for the $300 million cost, which is about $100 million more than the new Pirates ballpark and about $70 million more than the new Steelers stadium.

"But, to tell you the truth, the noise doesn't appear to be that big a challenge, even though most people think it will be," Bob Brant said. "The acoustical stuff will absorb most of it. What everybody loses comprehension of is this building will be so large, it will almost be an environment within itself, and the noise can dissipate itself."

The Pittsburgh-based Dick Corp. has been hired as the general contractor of the project, currently called the Pittsburgh Auto Racing Complex. The naming rights are to be sold before the track opens in 2002, although the developers acknowledge that putting a price tag on the rights has been difficult.

"There's no precedent for this, something with an international appeal, and this could blow away some of the standards for rights values," said Bob Brant, the executive vice president of Brant Motorsports.

Because the track would be located close to the airport, the Federal Aviation Administration has undertaken an environmental assessment study that could take six to eight months. If no problems develop during the study, groundbreaking is planned for the middle of next year, with construction taking about two years.

The Brants, who live in West Virginia, have lined up 80 percent of the money needed to build the privately financed track and are nearing a lease agreement with Allegheny County, which is providing the land.

The developers already are marketing the track as a year-around facility that can be used for car and truck racing, driving schools and new car testing.

"We'll be busy 200 days a year," Bob Brant said. "Every time I drive by the Steelers stadium or the Pirates stadium, I visualize how ours will be. The difficult thing has been the anticipation and the waiting to get it done. Believe me, we're as anxious to get it done as the fans are for us to get it done."