An extended state tax break for NASCAR, the new owners of the Iowa Speedway, is under discussion at the statehouse. Jimmy Small, the track’s new president, told a group of legislators this morning he wants to turn the Iowa Speedway into a major tourist destination.
“We’re going to start immediately branding the Speedway as the fastest short track on the planet,” Small said. “It has been since it was built, will continue to be — at least for a considerable time period. That is a unique quality of the racetrack. It’s a unique quality of Newton.”
The track’s previous owners were awarded a rebate on the state sales taxes it collected when the Newton track first opened in 2006 and a state senate subcommittee today voted to extend that rebate to NASCAR. Senator Bill Dotzler, a Democrat from Waterloo who’s a racing enthusiast, said NASCAR needs that tax break.
“You look at the past track record, we’ve had marginal success there and I know investors have lost money,” Dotzler said.
But House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, a Republican from Hiawatha, questions why NASCAR needs that tax break, unless they’re planning major improvements at the Iowa Speedway.
“If this is about making a great venue even greater, then I think the legislature would like to have that conversation,” Paulsen told reporters late this morning.
NASCAR — the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing — is a private corporation that hosts races which draw tens of thousands of spectators and millions of television viewers. Paulsen is a NASCAR fan — his favorite driver is Mark Martin — but the House speaker wants more details from NASCAR executives about their plans for “growing the venue” in Newton.
“Bigger races, more races, more events, different types of events,” Paulsen said. “That’s something that I hope they’ll come back to us with.”
A prestigious “cup” race would be a “fabulous thing for the state,” according to Paulsen, along with a new “synergy” with the Knoxville Raceway known as the “Sprint Car Capital of the World.”
“Iowans and I think, in particular, Iowa race fans are particularly proud of the track at Knoxville and that’s a another great venue with a different style of racing,” Paulsen said. “But that’s a fabulous venue and if there’s an opportunity to elevate the stature of both those tracks at the same time, I think that would be exciting as well.”
Democrats in the Iowa Senate last year voted to give the Newton track $8 million in state funds over four years to finance track improvements, in hopes of landing a NASCAR “Sprint Cup” race, but Republicans in the House did not go along with the plan. Senate Democratic Leader Mike Gronstal of Council Bluffs told reporters today that “it’s likely the senate will proceed” this year on extending some type of financial help for the Iowa Speedway.
“We’re looking for an opportunity to grow Iowa’s economy, to attract tourists to the state and to provide some jobs and I think that’s worth us being partners with folks considering that,” Gronstal said.
And Gronstal seems ready to give the green light to that state sales tax rebate for the new owners of the Newton track.
“It’s a fairly modest request on their part,” Gronstal told reporters.
The Iowa Speedway has permanent seating for 30,000 fans. Attendance at NASCAR Sprint Cup races averaged just under 100,000 in 2012. Many tracks stopped disclosing attendance figures in 2013.
The Newton track is seven-eighths of a mile and was designed by driver Rusty Wallace.