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NASCAR says no to track at Fort Erie Promoters mention other possibilities

The promise of a new $172 million, state-of-the-art race track isn't enough to lure NASCAR to Fort Erie, Ont., a spokesman for the auto-racing organization said Friday.

The group of investors planning a racing complex that would seat 65,000 spectators hopes to bring top-level auto racing to Southern Ontario, but NASCAR won't be part of the project.

"Our schedule is extremely full, especially in our top three national series," NASCAR spokesman Ramsey Poston told The News, referring to the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Craftsman Truck series. "There's really not much, if any, room to add any dates at this time."

But local officials say there never was a commitment from NASCAR to bring a race to Fort Erie and the project is an economic engine that doesn't hinge on NASCAR's participation.

In fact, one economic-development official involved in the project said NASCAR still could change its mind and bring a race here once they see the success of the finished track.

"In the end, NASCAR may be approached, or be approachable," said James A. Thibert, president of the Fort Erie Economic Development and Tourism Corp.

Officials revealed plans for the project at a Tuesday news conference in Fort Erie, where a Kuwaiti financial company was identified as the lead investor.

However, news of the race track began leaking out over the past week or so, and media reports referred to it as a "NASCAR-ready" or "NASCAR-level" track.

The facility, as envisioned by local officials and Bayt Al Mal Investment Bank of Kuwait, would hold a one-mile oval track and a 2 1/2 -mile, road-course track.

It could be expanded to seat 100,000 people, and officials say the complex could host retail shops, a hotel, research-and-development space and other business operations.

Local officials point to the construction and permanent jobs the track would create, and they suggest it will boost tourism.

Harry Schlange, chief administrative officer for Fort Erie, noted that officials never called it a "NASCAR track."

But investors and local officials said the track would be built to the specifications needed to host an auto race at the level of NASCAR, Indy Racing League or another series.

They noted NASCAR had said publicly that it wants to locate a race in Canada, and they pointed out Fort Erie's proximity to Toronto and to major markets in the United States.

However, Poston said this part of North America already is well-covered by NASCAR races in Montreal, Watkins Glen and Loudon, N.H.

Officials said it's no surprise NASCAR is saying no right now. A lot of communities want to bring NASCAR to their tracks, and the organization can't make premature promises, Thibert added. NASCAR faced an antitrust suit over a race track project in Kentucky.

Still, Thibert said investors and local officials have been in negotiations with other racing leagues. He said he couldn't identify them yet.

"We have all sorts of plans, and all sorts of things in place," Thibert said.

e-mail: swatson@buffnews.com

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