zMAX Dragway: 10 years of the track that almost wasn't built - | WBTV Charlotte

zMAX Dragway: 10 years of the track that almost wasn't built

(David Whisenant-WBTV) (David Whisenant-WBTV)

NGK Spark Plugs NHRA Four-Wide Nationals at zMAX Dragway in Concord is one of the biggest stops on the tour in terms of attendance and attention. It's an annual reminder of how popular the quarter mile track is for fans, and how big it is for the local economy.

Around 10 years ago, the track hosted its first event, but in the months leading up to that race, the track's place in the Charlotte area was nearly eliminated.

It began when Speedway Motorsports Chairman Bruton Smith announced that he was going to build the dragway. 

Work then began on the track in the fall of 2007, but city officials and neighbors said "not so fast."

Concerns over noise prompted the city to tell Smith to stop his work on the track. Smith then announced that if he couldn't build the dragstrip, he would take Charlotte Motor Speedway and move it out of Concord.

“I think it was sort of an insulting thing that the community was pushing back on this opportunity when we were investing $60 million," Marcus Smith said on Friday.

Other cities began to court Smith for the lucrative venue, while Concord city leaders worked with the county and the state to find a solution.

Smith offered to increase sound blocking efforts around the track to ease the noise concerns of neighbors in nearby developments. 

An agreement to pay Smith $60 million to make improvements was eventually accepted, but that caused controversy when city leaders decided to pay those funds over forty years.

Lawsuits were filed that were finally disposed of in 2011.

A news release from the City of Concord at the time spelled out the terms:

City of Concord and Charlotte Motor Speedway officials agreed on a plan for the City to obtain engineering documents and public rights-of-way that should be beneficial to making public improvements in the area southeast of I-85 Exit 49, once funding is available.

To address traffic congestion issues on Concord Parkway, Morehead Road, and the corridor between I-85 Exit 49 and the speedway, the City will purchase engineering documents and other plans already developed by CMS/SMI’s hired consultants for transportation improvements to these facilities.  In addition, the City will purchase a greenway trail easement along the south side of the Rocky River from the northern to the southern (down river) boundaries of the CMS properties in Concord, and secure other infrastructure easements.

The agreement serves as a settlement between the City of Concord and Charlotte Motor Speedway reached in the matters of Charlotte Motor Speedway, LLC and Speedway Motorsports, Inc. v. City of Concord and County of Cabarrus.

 In recent years, visitor spending due to tourism has increased at an average rate of 10 percent per year.  Over $200 million dollars of revenue come into Cabarrus County each year according to the NC Division of Tourism, and Cabarrus County is ranked 13th among all the 100 counties in NC for tourism.  This has led to the development of over 1,800 hotel rooms at Exit 49 as well as restaurants, shopping, and entertainment venues near and around Concord Mills and Weddington Road.

 Motorsports is an essential part of the tourism economy in Cabarrus County. Speedway Motorsports’ venues in Concord bring over 1.25 million fans, vendors, and participants each year, with the total economic impact of all races over $340 million.  In addition, the race teams’ shops bring in almost one million visitors each year.  Maintaining and improving our public infrastructure is directly related to our ability to continue building this economic lifeline.

The economic impact of tourism in Concord is unquestionable, and is based on many years of public-private partnership in Cabarrus County.  The agreement will allow both Concord and Charlotte Motor Speedway to move forward with the good relationship enjoyed for many decades and ensure continued success in the future.

Since the first event in 2008, zMAX Dragway has become a very popular spot for fans and racers from all over the country. Fans from 50 states and 11 foreign countries will be in Concord this weekend for the Four-Wide Nationals.

“Oh my gosh, this is such a beautiful track, it’s unbelievable," said Madison Ellison, a third generation Sportsman driver from Kentucky.

The events at zMAX are eagerly embraced by city and county officials and those who work with economic development in the area.

“There’s hundreds of millions of dollars in tourism, economic impact that happen because of this fantastic catalyst of the speedway, the dragway, the dirt track, and all the events we have here," Smith added.

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