Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant knows every speed-loving Mississippian would support bringing NASCAR to the state, and he’s promising, as part of his campaign for governor, to help make it happen.
But there’s a big problem with that promise: Bryant can’t keep it.
There will not be a NASCAR track built in Mississippi. And even if one gets built, it’s highly unlikely NASCAR would schedule any races here.
In a recent speech in Rankin County, Bryant told a group of supporters, “We have even talked to some friends … about a NASCAR track. I’m gonna go ahead and tell you I want one. I’m gonna go out on a limb and say we need a NASCAR track here in Mississippi. And I’ve got the people to come together that want to do that.”
However, motorsports insiders say that’s never going to happen.
The last track sanctioned by NASCAR was the $152-million Kentucky Speedway, which will have its first official race with the big boys in July. But it took five years and two lawsuits to get the track included in the series.
“NASCAR is looking to cut back on dates, not increase dates,” Sports Business Journal motorsports writer Tripp Mickle said. “That’s an empty promise. That’s never going to happen.”
NASCAR has been going through the same economic crisis as every other industry in the nation. It already cut purses for the Nationwide Series by 20 per cent this season, a move designed to make hosting the second-tier series a more profitable proposition for track owners. It also cut the number of races this year from 35 to 34.
But short track owners are losing money, too, and the industry is scrambling to come up with a viable solution.
Mickle estimated a new track in Mississippi could cost between $200 million and $500 million and take up to three years to build.
“Maybe you could get one of the minor series to come,” he said, “but, I don’t know.”
Even a Mississippi-born NASCAR insider, who wants a track in Mississippi, said there’s no way it will happen.
“No chance,” said former nascar.com managing editor Duane Cross, who grew up in Aberdeen. “To get up and talk about that is really not very fair.”
Promising a NASCAR track is one thing, he said, but laying out a clear set of plans and details is something else.
Bryant, for now at least, is keeping those details to himself.
Other than his comments on the campaign trail, Bryant would not respond to interview requests to detail the idea, but a statement attributed to him said he is for NASCAR in Mississippi.
That doesn’t add up. Bryant is on the campaign trail telling potential voters he wants to bring NASCAR to Mississippi, yet he doesn’t want to talk about the specifics of building what, at minimum, could be a $200-million track and breaking into the NASCAR schedule.
To get a national touring series race — Cup, Nationwide or Truck — a track must apply for a NASCAR-sanctioned license. The track must then meet minimum safety requirements.
“Even then,” Cross said, “the chances of NASCAR adding a date to the existing schedule is almost nil.”
The same is true for a local series race, like K&N Pro East or West, Whelen Modified or Whelen Southern Modified and Whelen All-American.
Cross, who is now editor of ncaa.com, said there is a better opportunity for Mississippi to get a local series track sanctioned “but the economic impact is almost minimal.”
So, is Bryant’s NASCAR talk just an attempt to get votes by misleading the public?
If it’s not and he’s serious about making this happen, his potential supporters deserve more than a weak promise built on the sands of political sentiment. Without the details, it looks a lot like Bryant is just spinning his wheels.