The Holley Performance Products Control Tower at the 186-acre NCM Motorsports Park marks yet another opportunity for Bowling Green and Warren County to fine-tune its motor sports identity, officials said Wednesday.
Like the carburetors among the 18 brands Holley sells to a worldwide audience, Bowling Green and Warren County has a multifaceted motor sports footprint, hosting three major motor sports attractions – the National Corvette Museum, the NCM Motorsports Park and Beech Bend Raceway.
Dave Tatman, executive director of the Kentucky Automotive Industry Association, said the Holley control tower is "a visual reminder" of the area's motor sports heritage and Kentucky's importance in the automobile manufacturing and aftermarket industries.
The red Holley logo is prominently displayed at the entrance to the $1.8 million, two-story, 15,000-square-foot tower complex overlooking the park's racing ovals.
Holley has been a manufacturing presence in Bowling Green since 1952, having been founded around 1903 during the advent of the automobile.
"This solidifies our identity to be a motor sports town," said Bill Tichenor, director of marketing for Holley Performance Products, which employs 1,000 people along Russellville Road. Holley is the world's largest maker of high-performance products for the automotive aftermarket, and its carburetor has won more races than all others combined.
"Honestly, we are just getting started," said Mitch Wright, general manager of the NCM Motorsports Park. The control tower joins the Kimberlee A. Fast Pavilion and garage complex and the Mobile 1 Fueling Station. Touring laps are $45 per car and hot laps are $100 per session. The park also hosts about 20 high-performance driving schools a year.
Bowling Green Mayor Bruce Wilkerson said he told a Lexington contingent a while back that they couldn't exclusively claim to be the horse capital of Kentucky.
"Bowling Green puts 500 of them (horses) under one of these hoods," Wilkerson said, speaking while standing off to the side of a bright-red test car driven into the downstairs meeting room for display. Two more red test cars sat along the track as a backdrop outside the large room-size window facing the track.
The control tower was the site of a grand opening and ribbon-cutting on Wednesday morning. The NCM Motorsports Park hosts racing hobbyists, seeing about 65,000 people visit the park last year, said Vicki Fitch, executive director of the Bowling Green Area Convention & Visitors Bureau.
"Visitors are incredibly valuable to our community," Fitch said. Those visitors stayed an estimated 40,000 hotel room nights.
Visitors to the ribbon-cutting also got a facility tour from Matt Busby, NCM Motorsports Park operations manager. Visitors saw the Winding Road Racing Shop downstairs where drivers can stock up on gear like helmets, shoes, gloves, hats and T-shirts, along with the brake fluid which might have slipped their mind to purchase in advance for their ride, he said.
A large room downstairs can be partitioned off for classrooms, while upstairs a 2,000-square-foot outdoor observation deck and a carpeted inside control tower room are available for event organizers and patrons. Meeting spaces are available for rent for patrons to host meetings and private functions.
Wright said out-of-town visitors are "blown away" with the facility. The park, which opened in August 2014, is also scheduled to host a portion of the Holley LS Fest.
Tichenor said "the marriage" between Holley and the park "couldn't be better."
Quintin Littrell, president of Sunbelt Construction which built the facility, and a longtime local resident, recalled when first Holley, then the General Motors Bowling Green Assembly Plant, the home of the iconic Chevrolet Corvette, came to town.
"My aunts and uncles worked at Holley," he said.
Bowling Green and Warren County motor sports options add to a thriving state economic picture.
In 2015, Kentucky reported $5.9 billion in automative-related exports. In the last five years, motor vehicle-related investments of $5 billion have been announced in Kentucky, including nearly 20,000 new jobs.
The park hasn't been without its detractors.
Noise levels at the park have drawn the ire of nearby Clark Circle residents, who complained to local officials last year and actually sought a court injunction to block park events. The NCM Foundation and residents both attended a March hearing before the City-County Planning Commission of Warren County, where the planning group tabled consideration of an amended detailed development plan.
At that hearing, Charles "Buzz" English, an attorney representing NCM, argued that NCM is in compliance with the noise abatement agreement with testimony from Bill Bowlby of Bowlby & Associates, Inc., a consulting firm that deals with noise analysis.
Bowlby presented data that showed levels of noise on an hourly basis, suggesting that the volume of the area's noise saw mostly small increases falling short of "substantial," which, though not defined in any agreement with the planning commission, is defined by the Federal Highway Administration as an increase of 10 to 15 decibels.
Chris Davenport, the attorney who represents Residents Against Motorsports Track Noise LLC., suggested the commission table the measure, arguing that the data used earlier to show it was in compliance is based on faulty or misleading information.
“They have not suggested to you a lack of substantial increase in surrounding properties," he said. "They have suggested some seven adjacent properties out of the 50-some I represent.”
The issue is on two legal tracks. The NCM is appealing a code enforcement fine in Warren District Judge John Brown's court.
Meanwhile, Warren Circuit Court Judge John Grise set a Nov. 1 jury trial to explore possible monetary damages incurred by Clark Circle homeowners as a result of the vehicle noise. Grise previously denied a temporary restraining order sought by Residents Against Motorsports Track Noise LLC to shut down the park.
— Follow business reporter Charles A. Mason on Twitter @BGDNbusiness or visit bgdailynews.com.