Race park planned for Metrolina




By Doug Smith

A rendering of the proposed Metrolina Speed and Sports Center, planned for Old Statesville Road at the old Metrolina Speedway in northern Charlotte. AI DESIGN GROUP INC.

An investment group wants to revitalize the race track at the Metrolina Tradeshow Expo in northern Charlotte and make it the centerpiece of a $50 million amateur sports and tourism destination.

Speedway Investment Group, based in Mooresville, said Monday that the Metrolina Speed and Sport Center could generate 150 jobs in the Derita community.

Simon Weber, president, said the group plans to buy 40 of Metrolina's 146 acres and complete the initial phase by April 2010, to coincide with the opening of NASCAR Hall of Fame in uptown Charlotte.

The initial phase would include a 40,000-square-foot building with retail and a rooftop skateboard park. The property also would include a progressively banked asphalt track, a karting facility and a “drifting” course on which drivers oversteer to cause cars to lose traction and skid.

Weber said the sports complex would accommodate racing configurations from go-karts to late-model stock cars. It would include outdoor and indoor radio-controlled car tracks, grandstands and 4,000 parking spaces.

Tim Newman, CEO of the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority, said the project could complement the NASCAR hall by “celebrating parts of racing that are difficult to celebrate now.”

Weber said Monday that he is using institutional funding to help finance the development, which he says would celebrate Metrolina's history, embrace green technology and attract national and international sports competitions.

The deal is contingent on a rezoning by the Charlotte City Council. A public hearing and vote is planned for June 15.

Councilman James Mitchell Jr., whose District 2 includes the property located off Old Statesville Road, supports the project and is meeting with Derita residents to discuss it.

“It's a great way for people who have lived there for over 40 years to feel good about the community,” he said.

“Amateur sports and family tourism are top priorities for the economic development committee that I serve as vice chair of,” Mitchell said. “So this one project helps accomplish both.”

The center's second construction phase would include 55,000 square feet for restaurant and food services, a 55,000-square-foot conference center, an indoor electric karting facility, 150 hotel rooms and 30,000 square feet of offices.

Wes Jones, president of ai Design Group Inc., project architect, said he believes the combination of all the indoor and outdoor uses on a single site is unique in the industry.

“This is really all about amateur motor sports and how you get your start in the industry,” he said.

Race tracks typically raise community concerns about noise, and Jones said the development team is addressing that issue by engaging a national acoustic consultant with motorsports expertise.

Linda Wells Pistone, whose family is selling the 40 acres to the investor group, said other activities – from gun shows to concerts – will continue as usual on the Metrolina Tradeshow Expo grounds.


Her family has owned the land since 1965.

In the 1960s, Metrolina operated as Speedworld and was also known as the Charlotte Fairgrounds Speedway. The 0.6-mile clay track was paved briefly in the 1970s and ran NASCAR-sponsored races promoted by Ned Jarrett. It was returned to dirt and operated off and on until the mid-1990s. Dale Earnhardt Sr. won his first race on asphalt there.

“I wanted to utilize this area,” Pistone said. “I'm excited about the jobs the sports center will create for this area.”

Weber said he became interested in the project through his 20-year-old son, who has been racing since he was seven.

“At the sports center a family of four with two children can stay in Mecklenburg and do a variety of things – we can keep dollars in Mecklenburg,” he said.

Weber said he's not asking for help now from government agencies, but he might need help with infrastructure improvements.

Tim Newman, CEO of the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority, said Weber told him the need for public assistance would be “minimal if any.”