Track interests Gordon

DEAN MCNULTY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:51 AM ET

What was once a fanciful notion that a group of Kuwaiti businessmen wanted to invest up to $200 million to build a NASCAR-ready oval race track in Canada's Niagara region, now is picking up steam and credibility.

Yesterday, a representative of four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Jeff Gordon confirmed to Sun Media that the driver of the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet has expressed interest in being a part of the project that would see a 65,000-seat oval constructed on 600 acres of land near Fort Erie.

"John Bickford, vice-president and general manager of Jeff Gordon Inc., verified (Jeff's) involvement in the project," Gordon public relations rep Jon Edwards said in an e-mail to Sun Media.

Bickford is Gordon's step-father and has handled the racing superstar's business affairs for most of his career.

Edwards said that it doesn't mean that Gordon has agreed to make any investment in the project at this time, but he has expressed interest in further discussion with the partners about the venture.

"While there is a letter of understanding between the parties, there is no signed agreement at this time," Edwards said.

The group pushing the project forward is headed by Kuwaiti national Azhar Mohammad. He is the executive director of Emirates Consulting, a Toronto-based subsidiary of Kuwaiti-based investment bank Bayt Al Mal Investment Co.

It is not the first time this group has been in the news.

Last fall when it first announced its grandiose plan for the Fort Erie track that would host a NASCAR event, officials at the stock car racing giant's Daytona Beach headquarters denied any involvement and said there were no plans to give a race in any of their three main series to the group.

Since then, Mohammad has been quiet about any support from racing bosses for the planned track until yesterday when Sun Media's Niagara Falls Review was told about Gordon's participation.

In an interview with the newspaper, Fort Erie mayor Doug Martin said he, too, had been in contact with Gordon's business group.

"We have met with them at the region, they have been here," Martin said. "Through the proposal that's obviously coming on, we were aware that (Bayt Al Mal) were in talks with Jeff Gordon's (people)."

In a time of economic turmoil such a project could inject much needed capital into both the Canadian economy and NASCAR.

Hard times for No. 8

Just how bad is the economic climate out there in NASCAR-land?

Well, yesterday, Earnhardt Ganassi Racing shut down the car bearing Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s old number, parking the No. 8 Chevrolet for the foreseeable future.

The No. 8 Chevrolet had gained almost iconic status since it was first introduced at the Cup level in the spring race at Lowe's Motor Speedway in 1999 with Junior behind the wheel.

According to team sources yesterday, Chip Ganassi and Teresa Earnhardt still are attempting to find sponsorship for Aric Almirola, who has driven the No. 8 car in the first seven events of 2009.

It marks the second hit at the merged Dale Earnhardt Inc/Chip Ganassi Racing since the start of the season.

First was the defection of Paul Menard from the No. 15 team. Menard took his family's sponsorship to Yates Racing.

"The moral of the story is we need a sponsor, badly," Almirola said.

Almirola's best finish this season was 21st place in Atlanta. Adding to the team's woes is that it sits 37th in points and needs to qualify on time to make races. ESPN reported yesterday that a handful of employees have been let go, and that number could grow to 40 or 50.

There have been persistent rumours that EGR's flagship No. 1 Chevrolet driver, Martin Truex Jr., has a clause in his contract that would allow him to leave if EGR cannot support at least a three-car team.

Team officials were not available for comment.

New partnership

Two of Quebec's most prolific racing families are joining forced this season to race in the Canadian Touring Championship.

Tony Lombardi, president of Lombardi Honda Racing, said yesterday that Jean-Francois Dumoulin will campaign one of his Honda Civics with brothers Nick and Kuno Wittmer in the Super Touring class. Lombardi will hand Nick Wittmer a new Civic sedan to contend for the driver title while Dumoulin and Kuno Wittmer will share the second car.


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