Pikes Peak International Raceway can breathe a sigh of relief, at least for now, knowing that International Speedway Corp. has put plans for a NASCAR or CART (Championship Auto Racing Team) superspeedway in Aurora on the back burner.
The NASCAR Winston Cup racing series and its accolades — the stars, the fans and the big bucks — have eluded PPIR during the three years it has been in business (built in 1996, it opened one year later). Its mile-long oval course can presently play to more than 42,000 fans, a number not close to the minimum 70,000 seating capacity that NASCAR Winston Cup looks for. But, said CEO Rob Johnson, PPIR is prepared.
The track, said Johnson, was originally designed for expansion. If the possibility of a NASCAR Winston Cup surfaces, he is ready.
All grading was done to expand to 70,000 (seating capacity) . then 100,000 . or 100,000 plus, said Johnson. We would build out over time. The owners took a look at the size of the market. They designed it with the thought in mind of a Winston Cup race. If the expansion couldnt be completed in time for a NASCAR Winston Cup race, they would utilize temporary grandstands, he added.
Aurora came close to getting a superspeedway last year when a measure was put on the November ballot for a facility that would seat between 70,000 and 110,000 fans, situated near Interstate 70 and the Highway E-470 loop. The ballot didnt pass and Aurora City Council blames that on confusing wording, said Kim Stuart Abell, acting director of communications for the city of Aurora.
The wording, said Aurora attorney Charles Richardson, was misconstrued by a local, nonprofit organization called Concerned Citizens Against Speedway Havoc (CRASH) that spent more than $312,000 in advertising, research and legal fees. Copies of campaign statements from the city of Aurora show this money came from AP Speedway LLC. This company is owned by Apollo Real Estate, the same company that is majority owner of Pikes Peak International Raceway.
Johnson isnt thinking twice about the possibility of a new racetrack in Aurora, or anywhere else. I dont know anything about it. Its not a concern of mine, he said. I run the racetrack and dont get involved in the ownership of the business.
Meanwhile, International Speedway Corp.s interest in Aurora remains intact. But with three other racetracks in the making, ISC decided to put the idea of a Denver racetrack on hold. (Were) still very interested, said Dave Talley, a spokesman for ISC. (Denver) would be a great motorsports market. We will continue to look at that market. Its on the radar screen, but is only a blip, said Talley.
Meanwhile Johnson just keeps his nose to the grindstone. Nothing is concrete in Colorado, he said. Racers and spectators like the (PPIR) facility. The best thing we can do is put on a good weekend — good customer service, racing on the track.
Johnson has been doing just that since he came to the racetrack in 1998. When he first arrived, he had customer service and traffic issues. He has since added live bands, dropped ticket prices, added additional ticket packages, and boosted sales and public relations by bringing motorcycle stuntdriver Robbie Knievel to the opening race two years in a row. He also changed PPIRs marketing strategy from hardcore racing to a family-oriented entertainment center. Ticket sales are up 30 percent since last year and have increased 42 percent this season. Since the Radisson Indy Racing Northern Light Series 200 Weekend in mid-June, ticket sales are up more than 50 percent, Johnson said.