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Senate approves $8 million for Iowa Speedway improvements

The Iowa Speedway in Newton would get $8 million in state taxpayer support over the next four years under a proposal approved by the Iowa Senate tonight.

Senator Bill Dotzler, a Democrat from Waterloo, said the money would help the track prepare to host a Sprint Cup race.

“The Sprint Cup is the ‘Holy Grail’ of NASCAR racing,” Dotzler said during an interview. “It’s the ‘big boys and girls’ race and it’s the one that’s most popular — probably one of the most popular sporting events in America, really.”

The Newton track is popular with the drivers, according to Dotzler.

“Last year the Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski, after he won the national championship at the Sprint Cup, said: ‘We need to come to Iowa,’” Dotzler said. “NASCAR needs to change. We need to get back to what racing was about: short-track racing, door-to-door banging racing. And the Iowa Speedway offers some of the most exciting races in the country and they’re excited. It’s a racer’s track.”

The Senate proposal would send $2 million in each of the next four years to the operators of the Newton track, for marketing and infrastructure improvements.

“Because you draw huge crowds — we had 60,000 at the Nationwide race — they have to put up additional bleachers,” Dotzler said. “There’s rest room stuff; there’s additional parking; there’s a lot of things that need to be done at the track to get it really ‘Cup’ ready and that’s what these dollars would be about.”

Dotzler admitted there’s “no guarantee” the Iowa Speedway will land a Sprint Cup race within four years.

“But the people that are in the know about NASCAR are saying that Iowa’s kind of next in line,” Dotzler said. “They’re looking to Iowa, but we’ve kind of got to get our ducks in a row before they’re going to make that committment and it’s a big committment ’cause it’s a big-time thing and it’s pretty exciting for Iowa.”

According to Dotzler, the Iowa Speedway owners will invest far more than the state would spend on the track, as getting a Sprint Cut race could require an outlay of millions for the rights alone.

The proposal to send state tax dollars to the Iowa Speedway was included in a huge bill dealing with a wide variety of taxing, spending and policy issues that cleared the Iowa Senate tonight. No one objected or even mentioned the $8 million for the track during Senate debate and the governor isn’t ruling out the idea. A spokesman for Governor Branstad said this evening that Branstad “will need to review the legislation in its final form prior to indicating the action he will take.”

A spokeswoman for Republicans who control the debate agenda in the Iowa House says the GOP “will take a look at” the proposal and “then make a decision.”

The Iowa Speedway has permanent seating for 30,000 fans according to its website and held its first race in the fall of 2006. The track itself is seven-eighths of a mile and was designed by driver Rusty Wallace. Senator Dotzler, by the way, has eight season tickets to the Iowa Speedway and describes himself as a “life-long racing fan.”

“I grew up in racing,” Dotzler said. “My first job was working at a stock car track, selling peanuts and ice cream when I was in junior high school.”

Several years ago, before the Newton race track was built, legislators voted to let the track to keep sales tax revenue from sales of tickets and other track merchandise to help finance construction. That tax plan recently was extended to developers of a sports complex around the Field of Dreams in Dyersville.