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Lowe's owner threatens to close track

CONCORD, N.C. (AP) — The owner of Lowe's Motor Speedway threatened to shut down the track and open another one somewhere else after the city council derailed his plans to build a drag-racing strip at the site.

City officials angered Bruton Smith when they voted this week to change zoning to ban drag strips, addressing concerns of nearby residents worried the noise would disturb their neighborhoods and decrease property values.

Smith said his team looked at two sites Wednesday and was contacted by two more sites. He would not say where they were.

Smith said he's prepared to spend the estimated $350 million it would take to shut down Lowe's Motor Speedway and build another track and drag strip elsewhere in the Charlotte area, especially because he was already considering spending a huge sum to update the existing track.

"In light of what's happened ... now I could take that $200 million and maybe another $100 (million) or $150 million a\nd I could build a new facility," Smith said.

But building a new track from scratch wouldn't be easy. While he promises fans a "bigger and better" venue, there are few sites in the Charlotte area that could replicate the 2,000-acre facility Smith now has at Lowe's. Those that can are not close to any major highways.

Smith is chief executive of Speedway Motorsports Inc., which owns Lowe's Motor Speedway and five other NASCAR tracks, as well as Sonic Automotive Inc., which has 195 automotive retail franchises and 40 collision repair centers nationwide.

Shutting down the speedway would cost both Concord and Cabarrus County millions in tax revenue. Last year, officials said, Lowe's Motor Speedway brought in $169 million in tourism spending to Cabarrus County. It's worth around $1.02 million and $722,000 in property taxes to Cabarrus County and Concord, respectively.

"If Mr. Smith wants to spend $300 million in retribution, there's nothing we can do about that," said Mayor Pro Tem Jim Ramseur.

The dispute with Concord isn't the first Smith has had with government official. He sparred with Mecklenburg County in 2004 over hundreds of trees that were cleared for a parking lot at the track.