Commentary by: Andy Marquis ~ [email protected]

Copper Hill, VA(December 13, 2012) – Washington, DC might be basking in the glory of RG3 and the Washington Redskins, but just off I-95 in Spotsylvania County, a battle is brewing over the future of auto racing in the region.  And that battle will play out in an arena the region is too familiar with: Politics.

We’re talking about opposition cropping up to Steve Britt’s proposed, all-purpose Dominion Raceway motorsports complex.  The plan to build the complex in Thornburg, Virginia is being met with resistance from a “grassroots coalition” of residents concerned about the track’s impact on their quality of life.

Conventional wisdom says that the economy is hurting and a project like Dominion Raceway could spur the type of economic development needed in this recession.  However, that’s conventional wisdom, and that has no place in politics in any level.

My talks with people involved in this political process indicate that the Dominion Raceway has the support of the Spotsylvania County Government.  The county’s economic development office is involved, and there shouldn’t be any legal or technical issues that prevent the Spotsylvania County Planning Commission from rejecting the proposal.

But this is also the part where we hear people complain about the impact on schools, traffic, the environment and noise.  Of all the issues opponents of the track raised, the only issue that has validity is traffic – and even then, it’s not like traffic will be dramatically worse than it already is on any average day.  As a result, Dominion Raceway is holding a public meeting today (December 13th) with residents of the community so residents can air their concerns.

As someone who’s covered the political process before, I can say there’s no harm to come from this.  An easy way to kill support from a county government is to go in to a community and flip the residents the bird.  I’ve sat in county commission meetings before and seen a county flip on their support of a project, instantly, because a developer or an institution didn’t reach out to a community to let them know what they were planning.  Steve Britt is doing the right thing here, and I hope he’s able to keep the support of the county through all the criticism he is now destined for.

I’ve been pretty outspoken in the past about racetracks.  If you don’t like the noise that comes from a racetrack that already exists (see: Old Dominion Speedway), then move.  However, I do see the complications that arise when trying to enter an area and build a motorsports complex.  Hell, it completely blew my mind when Baltimore City allowed the Baltimore Grand Prix to be run.  The challenge is always there.  I mean, aside from all of us who live, eat and breathe racing, who wants a racetrack in their backyard?

I’ve had opinions in the past.  I know where opponents of the racetrack come from.  My position as a journalist has required me to sit back and remain neutral in regards to projects that would negatively affect the community I live in.  However, I have also seen rural activist groups use “junk science” to kill projects that would benefit an entire community… and that’s something that irritates me to a great degree.

The opponents of the Dominion Raceway project claim that the speedway’s operation will disrupt school activities, destroy the environment, raise taxes, destroy property values, severely hinder emergency response and kill growth.  Seriously?  While at it, let’s say that it will ultimately lead to socialism!

The coalition’s site looks good and makes the racetrack sound so scary, citing examples of a 2.25 mile motorsports complex in New Jersey that field professional races such as the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series and the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards.  Apple, say hello to Orange.

Now, there are schools near the existing Old Dominion Speedway complex in Manassas, which are closer in proximity than the schools near the proposed Dominion Raceway complex, that aren’t disrupted by the weekly drag races or late model races because, well, the tracks do not operate during school hours.  The noise from the track is minimal.  Granted, the late model cars run mufflers.  But we’re not talking about them running Nitro Funny Cars on a weekly basis, or ever, here.  Thornburg residents concerned about noise can thank Maryland International Raceway for keeping the noisy drag cars away.

Do these idiots really believe Dominion Raceway is going to be running a 250 lap NASCAR Whelen All American Series feature event at 11am on a Wednesday afternoon while school is in session?  If so, they’re dumber than I previously though.

As for pollution… this one is laughable.  I mean, I literally fell out of my chair, lost bodily function and rolled on the floor in laughter when I read this.  I’m a liberal.  I care about the environment.  But, good grief, this is an area that sees thousands of cars pollute their air every single day.  After all, science does vindicated Former President Ronald Wilson Reagan on his statement that “trees cause more pollution than automobiles do”.

But this coalition of opponents would have you believe that this racetrack will cause the entire Thornburg area to be covered in a black smog cloud.  Fear tactics, which is another thing I despise about politics, at their worst.

Property values have plummeted during the Bush/Obama Recession and I can’t blame anyone for being concerned here.  But let’s look at this realistically.  The construction of the racetrack and retail expansion will attract future generations.  These are smart growth principles at work.  Younger people are driving less, either because they can’t afford to drive vehicles or because they don’t want to.  Youth populations in cities and suburbs are exploding.  Young people care about “Global Warming” as much as they care about same-sex marriage and a town like Thornburg could see immense benefits from future generations moving in to an entertainment/retail complex like what is proposed in Thornburg.  After all, property values in a suburban area like Montgomery County, Maryland surpass the property values in rural Franklin County, Virginia.

The idea of having drive-in movies sounds pretty badass as well.  Hell, I’m already seeing a few good reasons to move to Thornburg.  What was that about growth?

As far as emergency response is concerned … um, Old Dominion Speedway’s existing complex is used by Prince William County for training.  The coalition opposed to Dominion Raceway forgot to mention that.  I mean, again, here we see hyperbole at its finest.  Yes, police officers will be needed for security at Dominion Raceway.  Yes, emergency services will have to respond to accidents.  Yes, a patient will have to be flown out during those occasional serious crashes.  But it’s not like we’re talking about diverting half of the District of Columbia’s police force to the racetrack while a gang war is breaking out in Columbia Heights.  It is also true that revenue generate from the racetrack, between the taxes and fees they will pay and the additional revenue they will bring in to Spotsylvania County, will offset those costs and allow the county to hire more emergency services personnel.

As for the additional traffic, it’s not like we’re talking about the volume of traffic you’d experience in Ridgeway ahead of a NASCAR race, which, by the way, is still more pleasant than the average rush-hour traffic experience on the Capital Beltway.  From my understanding, Steve Britt has offered to pay the town and the state for the costs of any road expansions that are necessary, and I find it hard to believe Spotsylvania County and the State of Virginia would refuse to expand roads and highways in Thornburg if the cost was already offset, though I have seen dumber things happen.

Momentum is in Steve Britt’s favor, and so are the facts.  If the final decision, in regards to zoning and permits, was being made by the Spotsylvania County Board of Supervisors tomorrow, I’d bet it would pass.  However, backlash from the local community has to be acknowledged by the elected officials; after all it’s their job.  But they also have an obligation to act in the best interest of the county.

I don’t fault people for being opposed to the track.  I disagree with them fundamentally, but I don’t fault them.  However, the Thornburg coalition opposed to the track’s construction completely strikes out when their fear tactics are put up to scrutiny.

The thing in politics is, just because they struck out in regards to the facts doesn’t mean they still can’t defeat the proposal.  After all, when do facts matter?

This is the part where all of us in the racing community must mobilize, and the message must be clear.  We must reach out to the Spotsylvania County Board of Supervisors in large numbers and we need to explain that the approval of this project will result in us coming in to their community and spending money, bring revenue to them.

When it comes to politics, on any level, you can’t enter something assuming you’ve won.  You have to assume you could still lose.  If you want an example of what can happen in the face of conventional wisdom, look at Mitt Romney – a man who thought he was destined for the presidency against a president with 7.9% unemployment.  Conventional wisdom says a president can’t be re-elected in the face of high unemployment.  But Barack Obama was, because Mitt Romney spoke only to his supporters and thought he couldn’t be beaten.  And Steve Britt has to assume that his proposal could be struck down.  He has to speak to those who have no dog in the fight, and even to his opponents.

The racing community has to do their part as well.  They have to mobilize.  They have to write to Spotsylvania County.  They have to show up to public hearings.  They have to tout the benefits.  They should also tolerate criticism and respond with civility.  They must appear as the rational group against a coalition that mocks and ridicules their opposition.

In the end, just raw numbers of supporters of the racetracks versus opponents of the track should be enough to win the political battle and keep racing alive in a region rich in racing history.