Jerry Carroll is not a trendsetter. He is a trend-spotter. He loves nothing so much as someone else's bright idea. His business philosophy has always been to borrow from the best.
"It's the old Hannibal theory," the Turfway Park owner says. "I go around and see what everyone else is doing and what's working and bring it back home. Only I don't use elephants."
Carroll is best known for his horses, but he may soon start dabbling in horsepower. He has watched NASCAR's astonishing surge in popularity, and is eager to ride that wave to greater wealth.
For months, Carroll has been contemplating an auto track for Northern Kentucky, a notion that started to pick up speed Wednesday with the announcement of a formal feasibility study. Carroll may ultimately decide that the idea won't work, but his feedback so far has been feverish.
This may not be a sure sign of success, but it's usually a good clue.
"I'm excited about anything that other people are excited about," Carroll said Wednesday afternoon. "And the more I get in it, the more excited I am about the potential."
Today, Carroll and consultant Don Schumacher will drive to Indianapolis to confer with track designers. Soon, there may be a meeting with racing powerbroker Roger Penske. By summer's end, Carroll plans to have compelling reason to proceed with the project or to abandon it. If this seems an accelerated schedule to followers of Cincinnati's stadium stalemate, speed is Carroll's standard business practice. While others dither, he goes out and gets things done. Among his favorite maxims is that what comes to those who wait is only what is left by those who hustle.
"One of the things you've got to be aware of in real estate is timing," Carroll said. "It's all timing. . . It (auto racing) is very well organized. It is well run. But there is some discontent. Any time there is some discontent could be to me a sign of progress."
He was referring primarily to the open-wheel civil war between Tony George's Indianapolis Racing League and the Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) circuit. The rival outfits have damaged their main event - the Indianapolis 500 - but their split has created more events and contributed to proliferation of construction projects.
Since the fall of 1995, new tracks have opened in Fort Worth, Texas, Homestead, Fla., and Las Vegas, and this season will feature the first races at facilities in Madison, Ill., Fontana, Calif., Savannah, Ga., and Colorado Springs, Colo.
"The secret of these facilities is not to focus on one kind of racing," Schumacher said. "NASCAR is very healthy, could not be more healthy, but it's like professional golf. There are only so many weeks in the year, so many weekends to race in this climate, and there are a lot of other cities that would like to have those same dates."
Finding a slot
Cracking NASCAR's Winston Cup Series will take money yet to be committed and contacts yet to be developed. The series already runs from February through November, with few breathers. Because the top drivers are obliged to qualify each week to stay in contention for seasonal prizes, additional races face resistance.
"We have to give these guys some time off," said NASCAR spokesman John Griffin. "We went 14 consecutive weeks last year, and moods weren't great. You have to wonder how many more weekends the teams can endure?"
Griffin's advice to unproven race promoters is to begin less ambitiously with Busch Grand National stock cars or the Craftsman Truck series. NASCAR has 12 levels of competition altogether. Then there's CART and IRL, Formula 1 and motorcycles, drag racing, testing, commercial production, driving schools, auto shows and car clubs. The new Texas Motor Speedway expects to be in use 280 days a year, and reports that its 76 condominium units were sold for between $275,000 and $575,000.
The Sport of Carburetors lacks the cachet of the Sport of Kings, but its cash flow is a flood.
"I wasn't a big fan," Jerry Carroll admitted, "but I am a fan of anything that's successful."
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