HIGH POINT — As the furniture industry declines, plants close and jobs move overseas, many people in High Point are searching for a way to bring tourist money to the city and revitalize downtown.
The latest idea: race Indy cars downtown.
Furniture City Motorsports floated that idea at a news conference Thursday at Emerywood Country Club.
The group, a nonprofit that is working to make High Point a racing city, unveiled its plans to bring a road race to the streets downtown as early as 2010.
Rich Brenner, retired TV sportscaster and Furniture City Motorsports board member, said the group realizes it’s a lofty goal for just 18 months — but dreaming big is the first step.
Brenner reminded the crowd of a few dozen High Point residents, media and politicians that no one believed this state could have an NFL team when Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson announced his dream in 1987. A few years later, it was a reality.
“There’s a lot of work to be done, but if you have a vision and you have a goal, you can seize that moment,” Brenner said.
“Good things are economically set to happen here,” Brenner said. “We’ve got new interstates, the airport hub and industry looking to come here.”
Brenner said an annual race could capitalize on all those things and bring in much needed tourist money.
How much? Furniture City Motorsports’ Mike Foster said the group’s research points to between $11 million and $50 million in direct benefit to the area, with as much as $150 million possible in indirect benefits.
“The sky’s the limit,” Foster said.
Championship driver and racetrack consultant Chris Kneifel was on hand to unveil a proposed track through Main Street, Centennial Street and English Road.
Kneifel said he could see a High Point race becoming similar to California’s Long Beach Grand Prix, one of the longest-running open-wheel races in North America. That could mean as many as five racing series in the city with 20 to 40 cars competing in each category.
A temporary track would be erected through the streets for races, taking about a month to put together each time. Street closings would happen before each race.
Before the flags start waving, they need to find funding for temporary tracks and race promotion.
City Councilman John Faircloth said he thinks it’s a big dream, but one worth pursuing.
“I’m excited about it, and I think it could be the beginning of a major development for the Triad,” Faircloth said after Thursday’s presentation.
“We have a downtown that has a lot of down time,” Faircloth said. “The Furniture Market has sort of taken over a large part of the downtown, and a lot of smaller businesses have moved out. In a way that’s sad, but it also makes it perfect for something like this.”
Like a lot of North Carolinians, Faircloth said, he’s a race fan and would love to see High Point become part of the action.
“Like a lot of ’50s teenagers, I grew up driving fast cars,” Faircloth said. “I’d love to see them doing that again — but this time legally.”
Contact Joe Killian at 883-4422, Ext. 228, or email@example.com