Speedway upgrades expected to be ready for November finale
By Sherri C. Ranta
Homestead-Miami Speedway officials expect $23 million in capital improvements to be ready by Nov. 18, when NASCAR ends its season in nationally televised events.
A $15 million tower and $8 million lighting system are intended to elevate the status of the track and draw more fans to the weekend of racing local officials hope to brand as the Super Bowl of NASCAR.
Lighting for nighttime events will move all three season-ending races - Craftsman Truck, Busch and Nextel Cup - into primetime on NBC, TNT and Speed TV.
Tickets for the Nov. 20 NASCAR Nextel Cup Ford 40 - 65,000, excluding passes for media, drivers and crews - were sold out earlier this month. Seats are available for the Craftsman Truck and Busch races.
"We anticipate the race weekend will be one of the most anticipated sporting events in the country. We're developing a Super Bowl-type mega-event for NASCAR," said Curtis Gray, track president.
Homestead-Miami Speedway officials are meeting with Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau officials to expand the weekend's events, said William D. Talbert, bureau president and CEO.
Michael Kelly, director of previous NFL Super Bowls in Jacksonville and Tampa who joined the visitors bureau July 1, is working with speedway officials.
"This is the Super Bowl of motor racing," Mr. Talbert said. "Clearly, this is the best place to have the race - Miami in November. We're working with Curtis to make sure it stays here forever."
Last year's race and associated events generated $146 million in economic impact for South Florida, according to a Sports Management Research Institute study commissioned by track officials. It is considered to be one of the largest sports events in South Florida.
This month, workers are continuing to make improvements at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Construction of the new tower behind the first-turn grandstands, with 850 club-level seats and 16 corporate suites, is expected to "go down to the wire" but be completed on time, Mr. Gray said. Club seats at $650 each and corporate suites are sold out, he said.
"We're surprised the Champions Club sold out as quickly as it did," he said. "This just shows the magnitude of the event."
International Speedway Corp., which leases the track from the city, reconfigured the raceway in 2003 at a cost of $12 million. This year's improvements bring the company's two-year capital expenditures in Homestead to about $35 million.
The improvements, Mr. Gray said, are drawing fans and national media to South Florida.
The Ford 400, a Nov. 20 race that will determine the series' championship driver and team, will be televised by NBC.