The popularity of the four-year-old Iowa Speedway is leading to some growing pains in the City of Newton. Track designer and NASCAR legend Rusty Wallace is asking city officials to improve the nearby airport by lengthening the runway. He says right now bigger jets can’t land there safely.

“A lot of the sponsors and race teams are flying heavier, bigger airplanes…a lot of them are (flying) into Des Moines,” Wallace said. “We need that runway extended from 5,500 to about 7,000 feet. So, that’s something the City of Newton needs to do for the track.”

Newton Mayor Chaz Allen says a $2.65 million project is underway to widen the runway and create more taxi-ways. “Rusty’s talking about length as well. We don’t have a plan for length, but we’re thickening the runway to land more of their jets in Newton,” Allen said.

Wallace spoke with reporters about the Newton Airport issue Wednesday at the Iowa State Fair – as he announced the oval track facility will host two NASCAR Nationwide Series races in 2011. Wallace says Newton is also in need of more hotel rooms to accomodate the large crowds on race days.

Around 56,000 people attended a Nationwide Series race at the Iowa Speedway last month. “We definitely want to work with the City of Newton to do what we can to get more motels and retail stuff going on,” Wallace said. Mayor Allen says there are only around 500 hotel rooms available in Newton right now, so many Iowa Speedway patrons end up staying in Knoxville, Grinnell, Pella, Des Moines or even as far away as Iowa City.

“During a race weekend, we can fill (the hotel rooms) up. The other 300 or so days a year…that’s what we’re working toward – that’s what we have to get figured out so it works for us the whole year,” Allen said. Construction on one new hotel along I-80 in Newton grinded to a halt late last year when original owner ran out of money. Allen says the new owners are looking for more investors to complete that project.