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Council not ready to give race go-ahead

Published Oct. 13, 2005

A racing promoter will have to slow down before the City Council gives him the green light for a new grand prix-style race next year. First, City Manager Robert Obering must check out details about the proposed race around the Florida Suncoast Dome Oct. 30 to Nov. 1, 1992. Next month he will advise the City Council whether the race seems like a good idea and whether the promoter, William T. McVey, deserves the city's attention.

Thursday, McVey told the council he wanted their permission to hold the race but not their money.

Obering was asked to acquire specifics about the race, but some council members also said they wanted to clear up the "clouds" concerning McVey's background. The St. Petersburg Times reported Thursday that McVey ran into problems and controversy when he tried to promote racing in New Orleans and League City, Texas.

New Orleans officials canceled permission for the 1987 New Orleans International Racefest after they said McVey failed to pay a $465,000 performance bond. He told the Times this week he had the money but his race was doomed when he refused to pay bribes to two New Orleans City Council members, whom he would not name.

In Texas, McVey last month resigned as head of Race Marketing Associates after it was disclosed he had been arrested in Tampa in 1983 for possession of marijuana and manufacturing a controlled substance. He was never prosecuted.

His Race Marketing Associates wants to put a permanent speedway in League City, 25 miles south of Houston, angering some homeowners nearby and fueling a bitter political fight.

The Houston Chronicle also reported that McVey listed a never-developed race track in Mississippi as one of the so-called developed projects he included in his resume. The newspaper said he called the listing a mistake.

McVey founded the original St. Petersburg Grand Prix, which first ran in 1985, but he sold out his interest before the first race. He said he never got any money. The St. Petersburg Grand Prix ran its last race in 1990, then headed to bankruptcy court earlier this year amid debts.

Those debts are partly why McVey says he can make money when others could not. He said he can buy used barricades and other equipment from defunct racing promoters here, in Tampa and in West Palm Beach, at substantial savings. There now is no racing competition from Tampa, and the new race course, centered around the Florida Suncoast Dome, would offer wider, safer streets, he said.

McVey wants a three-day event with several classes of races including Trans-Am and Can-Am, and a weeklong series of concerts, charity golf tournaments, foot races, a regatta, seafood cookoff and ugly dog contest.

He told the council television coverage of the event would focus national and international attention on the area. The economic impact to the community, he said, could be $16-million to $18-million _ including a share for residents near the Dome, who could operate a concessions booth, he said.

He later identified his television contact as ITI Sports, a television sports-production company based in Atlanta.

Bill Imboden, ITI's chief executive officer, said McVey called Wednesday and talked to ITI's operations manager. Representatives of the Sports Car Club of America, or SCCA, were in the office at the time and said they knew and approved of McVey's plans for a new race, Imboden said. "We told him that if it goes together, we'd definitely be interested in it."

McVey told the council Thursday that he needed a decision before Sept. 1, in order to comply with the scheduling of the SCCA, which sanctions races. "If we don't have it together by that date, we will have to wait until 1993," he said.

Council member William Griswold asked McVey about New Orleans and why that race never occurred. McVey gave reasons including a developer who would only let him run the race around the Superdome for one year, leading to excessive paving costs as the course would have to be moved. He said the city's performance bond demand was "totally unreasonable."

He told the St. Petersburg City Council he would be willing to post a performance bond of about $150,000 "for the city services portion . . . when it is timely."

Then Griswold asked if sponsors of the New Orleans race got their money back. "No one requested a refund of sponsor money," McVey said.

But one of his sponsors from New Orleans remembers things differently.

"I had put $3,000 into the Racefest .

.

. and I heard on the radio that he didn't put down some money so the race was canceled," recalled Michael Potter, a district manager for Mac Tools who at the time worked in New Orleans. He now lives in St. Petersburg.

"I went down to his office the next morning and there was a line of people there waiting to get their money. And the place was locked up. . . . At eight o'clock the morning after the news came out that the race was canceled, he was gone and there was no one to get a refund from."