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Final 3 Selected for NASCAR HoF


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Atlanta among final three in bid for NASCAR Hall

By WALTER WOODS

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Published on: 01/06/06

NASCAR has scratched Kansas City and Richmond from the race for its hall of fame, leaving Atlanta pitted against two cradles of stock car racing ? Charlotte and Daytona Beach, Fla. ? for the highly-prized attraction.

NASCAR's decision, announced late Thursday, eliminates Kansas City, once a feared dark horse and a competitor with the sports franchises and population to rival metro Atlanta. It also drops Richmond, which touted its easy access to I-95 and Washington, D.C.

NASCAR expects to pick a winning city by March, and Atlanta's bid effort now faces off against two communities with historic ties to the sport and emotional bonds with racing fans.

Charlotte, in particular, has the business clout of Bank of America and Wachovia behind its bid, besides its claim to be the Nashville of stock car racing.

Stars like Jeff Gordon live there, and racing teams such as Hendrick Motorsports keep their state of the art facilities there ? not to mention the legacy of No. 3, Dale Earnhardt Sr. and "King" Richard Petty, who hailed from just up the road.

NASCAR started as a series of small heats on Daytona's beaches, and the France family, which owns the sport, is still based there. But Daytona was the smallest community that NASCAR considered and even its boosters acknowledged it was a long shot.

That may have changed in December, when the Florida legislature authorized a special license plate to raise money to help pay for a Daytona hall of fame.

"The dynamics changed after the legislature voted," said George Mirabal, head of the Daytona Beach chamber of commerce. "That really was a boost in two ways, financially and psychologically."

But Atlanta's hopes for the hall of fame are high.

Since November, the general consensus locally has been that NASCAR had narrowed its choices to Charlotte and Atlanta, an idea that NASCAR and organizers in other cities disputed.

Atlanta officials also have been buzzing with the overwhelming success of the Georgia Aquarium, which has drawn 400,000 visitors since opening in November.

The local bid organizers have been sending the Aquarium's attendance figures to NASCAR "on a timely basis" as evidence that Atlanta is the best choice, said A.J. Robinson, president of Central Atlanta Progress, the business group that put together Atlanta's bid.

"We've got a very competitive bid. I'm delighted we made the list," Robinson said Thursday. "Everybody's worked very hard, our numbers are compelling and I hope we make the final list."

Through most of last year, NASCAR had sent mixed signals about whether it would trim the list of five cities.

But officials decided this week it would be unfair to let Kansas City and Richmond invest more time and money into their campaigns when NASCAR's decision makers were headed in a different direction, said Kerry Tharp, a NASCAR spokesman in Charlotte.

"As you get to the final stages ? like the fourth quarter of a game ? you look at which cities are going to provide you with the best options," Tharp said. "We just felt like these three gave us those options."

NASCAR a year ago asked several communities to submit bids for hall of fame with a deadline of May 31. Five cities, Atlanta, Charlotte, Richmond, Daytona Beach, Fla., and Kansas City, Kan., handed in bids, and NASCAR officials visited each community this summer.

Bid officials in Richmond and Kansas City could not be reached late Thursday.

Many observers considered Kansas City to be a formidable competitor, if not a foregone conclusion.

Kansas City's track is new and located in the Midwest, a market, like many others, where NASCAR is trying to expand. And NASCAR CEO Brian France said last year that a central location for the hall would be a plus.

Kansas' former two-term governor sits on the board of International Speedway Corp., the public company run by the France family that owns a dozen of the sport's tracks.

Charlotte Observer columnist David Poole argued this summer that a "sweetheart" relationship between NASCAR and Kansas City officials made a hall of fame there a "done deal."

But NASCAR Chief Operating Officer George Pyne adamantly denied at the time that Kansas City had any leg up.

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