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Wednesday, June 16, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Airport panel against NASCAR track

By Peyton Whitely
Times Snohomish County bureau

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In a sense, an important line was drawn in the sand with the Arlington Airport Commission's recent adoption of a resolution opposing the proposed site for a NASCAR track.

The commission is the first public body to formally oppose location of a track just south of the airport.

"This is a beginning," said Guy Kennedy, the commission's chairman. "It's a statement. It needs to be highlighted."

The resolution, adopted by a 6-1 vote, lays out a number of reasons for the action but fundamentally says the track could threaten operations of the airport, which has been a key part of Arlington's culture since World War II.

Originally built as a Navy training station, the airport is viewed as a regional aviation resource with its location near Interstate 5 and virtually unrestricted flying environment.

The airport attracts aircraft ranging from gliders and ultralights to corporate jets. It hosts the nation's third-largest general-aviation fly-in each summer.

Now the commission has concluded all that could change if NASCAR arrives.

"There's probably not a group that's done more work regarding the track than the Airport Commission," Kennedy said.

The resolution has no legal force, he noted, and is just one more element in an increasingly complex situation involving multiple jurisdictions and groups trying to affect possible NASCAR plans.
 
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International Speedway of Daytona Beach, Fla., has proposed building a NASCAR track somewhere in the Pacific Northwest, with one of the possible sites just south of Arlington Airport. Such a track is expected to attract as many as 90,000 spectators on race days and could be in place by 2008. Supporters say the track would provide a huge economic boom for the county and state.

The commission resolution comes to several conclusions.

One is that the commission is convinced that locating the track near the airport "would change the recreational-sport, general-aviation role of the airport."

A second is that the airport master plan calls for a restriction on "large concentrations of people" near the flight line. On race days, thousands of racing fans would flock to the track.

The commission's action came as a letdown for track supporters, who questioned the background of the resolution.

"I'm disappointed," said Gigi Burke, a founder of Fans United for NASCAR (FUN) and co-owner of Crown Distributing, an airport-area beverage business.

"I don't think that they're getting all the information correctly," Burke said.

She said the opposition fails to fully recognize the benefits the track would bring with a minimum of drawbacks.

Kennedy stressed that the opposition isn't based on any particular dislike of NASCAR but simply general concerns about any such project near the airport, whether it's a football stadium, power plant or stock-car track.

Those concerns extend from possible aviation disasters, such as a plane crashing into a packed stadium, to the possibility that the airport might have to be closed on race days or that permanent air-traffic-control measures, including a control tower, might have to be imposed.

Kennedy said he believes the resolution may force further debate about the siting.

"Everybody's been sitting neutral on this except the county and the city of Marysville," said Kennedy, with the city and Snohomish County agreeing to seek siting the track between Marysville and Arlington.

Now Kennedy said he thinks the Washington State Aviation Division, the Federal Aviation Administration and other entities eventually will have to take positions on the NASCAR plans.

"I think that's what's going to happen. It's just not going to happen tomorrow," Kennedy said. Besides involvement by such official agencies, private pro- and anti-NASCAR groups also have formed.

Peyton Whitely: 206-464-2259 or pwhitely@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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