$200-million dollar baby

DEAN MCNULTY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:34 AM ET

Just a year after one multi-million dollar plan to build a NASCAR-ready oval in southern Ontario went bust, a new group -- headed by Kuwaiti oil interests -- has announced it will go ahead with a one-mile banked oval near Fort Erie, Ont.

A similar project planned for Cayuga Raceway Park, just north of Fort Erie -- died on the table last year after investors couldn't convince banks that the deal was viable.

Sun Media's Tony Ricciuto was at the launch of the latest development where Fort Erie Mayor Doug Martin claimed it was "a done deal."

Ricciuto said that the project also has the stamp of approval of Ontario's Economic Development Minister, Sandra Pupatello, who went to Kuwait with Martin to hammer out financial details of the project.

The result of that meeting is a reported $200-million foreign investment to bring in a major motorsport speedway, entertainment and commercial complex to Fort Erie.

"It's on the road to being a done deal," Martin said.

The money is being put up by the Kuwaiti Islamic investment bank Bayt Al Mal Investments.

But an official from NASCAR's headquarters in Daytona told Sun Media none of the series' three major touring events -- Sprint Cup, Nationwide or Craftsman Trucks -- have plans for any new dates in the foreseeable future.

Ramsey Poston, NASCAR's managing director of corporate communications, said in an e-mail yesterday that they haven't been involved in any discussions about the proposed track nor have they any plans to hold future races there.

"NASCAR is not involved in the track project in any way," Poston said. "The schedules for NASCAR's three national series are for the most part full and NASCAR has no intention to race at the proposed track."

The principle in the group, however, hope that getting an Indy Racing League, American Le Mans Series or Grand Am series race will convince NASCAR to change their minds.

Bayt Al Mal has purchased 623 acres of land in Fort Erie, six kilometres from the U.S-Canada border, where it plans to build the complex.

Initially, there will be a 65,000-seat facility, which can be expanded to 100,000 seats, and will encompass a one-mile oval track and 2.5-mile road course.

"About 1,200 people will be working on this site to get it prepared. You are looking at about two years worth of construction and that's good for the economy of Niagara and for Fort Erie," Martin said.

"The region will receive a huge shot in the arm through increased economic development and tourism."

Shams Faiz, chief operating officer at Bayt Al Mal Investments told the Niagara Falls Review that this was a strategic location giving them access to both northern American states of New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania as well as the rich southern Ontario markets.

Martin also said that much of the pre-development work already has been done and that he hoped the track could be up and ready for racing within two years.

"We're hopeful for a 2010 opening date. We still have a lot of work to do in a short period of time," he said. "We are going to need the help of the province and the region to make this work."

Jay Mason, one of the Canadian partners on the project, said he is "just thrilled" to see this move forward.

"It's pretty cool," he said. "At the end of the day, it's not the work of any one person, many people have worked very hard on this and there are those who were involved in what I call the vision stage that did a lot of the heavy lifting."

Mason has been working on the project for about four years.

FINISH LINES

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