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Sunday September 24th, 2017 7:01PM

Richmond track changes name, plans $30 million update

By The Associated Press
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RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Richmond International Raceway is now Richmond Raceway and is due for $30 million in redevelopment over the next 15 months.

Track President Dennis Bickmeier and International Speedway Corp. CEO Lesa France Kennedy made the announcements Tuesday.

ISC has already made major changes at its flagship, Daytona International Speedway, and has a project at Phoenix International Raceway that should be completed by 2018, Kennedy said. She said ISC decided to make improvements at Richmond because it "has a very special personality, and it needs to continue. I think it's really important that we continue to upgrade all of our facilities."

The redeveloped infield will include a covered garage for teams to work on their cars while fans can watch from a nearby fenced-off walkway. There are also two suites and several covered areas for fans to socialize before a race, watch inspections up close and then the race. There will be an 80-person club with rooftop access near a new victory lane. Drivers will need to pass through fan areas to get to prerace ceremonies.

The project will give about 8,000-10,000 fans infield access at a cost comparable to a $50 pit pass, the track said.

NASCAR has seen a drop in attendance most everywhere, and the changes are "an opportunity to put people at the ground level of the sport," Bickmeier said. "We're going to be able to immerse people in the sport in a way that's not happened here before."

It won't quite be Richard Petty on a bulldozer tearing up the track for a redesign, as he did in 1988, but the project will begin after the September race, Bickmeier said. Next spring's race will be run "in a little bit of a construction zone," Bickmeier said, and the ribbon will be cut on the completed project before Richmond moves from the last race to make the 10-race playoffs into the playoffs in the fall of 2018.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe attended the announcement and said the state, on behalf of Virginia Tourism, would add another $150,000 to the project. The track in Henrico County has a $497 million economic impact and brings in about $87 million in state and local tax revenue.

"I don't think people realize what kind of an asset this is for the state of Virginia," McAuliffe said.

___

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