Battle to extend racetrack tax breaks heats up again

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The oftentimes controversial subject of tax breaks to U.S. auto racetracks is once again in the news.

According to a report by The Hill.com, racetrack owners are back on the defensive about revenue-saving tax breaks that, while helping out many smaller tracks, are viewed by some legislators as unfair and unnecessary.

The so-called Motorsports Tax Break, which has been in effect since 2004, allows track owners a variety of breaks, including a shorter depreciation schedule upon things such as major equipment purchases and significant facility improvements.

Much of those types of tax breaks expired at the end of last year when Congress failed to pass an extension. The issue is back in the forefront of legislators, who are increasingly butting heads with fellow politicians who want to do away with the break, also known as “the extender.”

That’s why most motorsports series – including NASCAR, IndyCar, NHRA and IMSA – are reportedly stepping up lobbying efforts to get Congress to reconsider and extend the tax break.

“It’s an asterisk in the extenders, yet it gets all this attention, mischaracterized,” International Speedway Corporation president John Saunders told TheHill.com.

Some of the motorsports-related tax breaks, as well as others for disparate entities such as Puerto Rican rum production and thoroughbred horse racing, are expected to be at least partly restored by year’s end, according to TheHill’s Bernie Becker.

But tax breaks aren’t just for major companies such as ISC, Speedway Motorsports Inc. and others. Small standalone racetracks and drag strips also receive tax benefits due to the nature of their businesses, many which are predicated upon things out of their control such as weather.

Many of those same tracks – it’s estimated there’s about 1,200 in the U.S. – can write off improvement costs over as much as seven years. In turn, that allows them to make even further improvements to their facilities to keep them technologically advanced and competitive with other similar tracks in their respective regions.

The U.S. Senate is preparing to float a proposal that would further extend the existing write-off schedule for another two years. There is also an option to extend the breaks for a decade at a cost of roughly $71 million, part of a larger $85 billion package to restore numerous other tax breaks to various industries that have also expired, according to TheHill.com.

Two members of Congressional tax-writing committees – Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.) – are seeking to make permanent the tax breaks for racetracks.

Stabenow told TheHill.com that Michigan International Speedway produces over $400 million annually in economic impact to the surrounding region and state.

“It’s a matter of just talking about how this is an economic engine for many communities around the country,” Stabenow said.

Michigan Republican and U.S. representative Dave Camp, who is chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, is mixed in his viewpoint on the tax breaks. He has lobbied fellow Congressmen in recent months to either reinstate the temporary tax breaks or do away with them completely.

Curiously enough, however, Camp has not indicated that he would like to make the temporary tax breaks permanent.

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Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

Photo: IndyCar
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For most of the team’s existence, Dale Coyne Racing has been the Chicago Cubs of American Open Wheel Racing – a team whose history was more defined by failures, at times comically so, than success.

The last decade, however, has seen the tide completely change. In 2007, they scored three podium finishes with Bruno Junqueira. In 2009, they won at Watkins Glen with the late Justin Wilson.

The combination won again at Texas Motor Speedway in 2012, and finished sixth in the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. That same year, Mike Conway took a shock win for them in Race 1 at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit.

Carlos Huertas scored an upset win for them in Race 1 at the Houston double-header in 2014, and while 2015 and 2016 yielded no wins, Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly gave them several strong runs – Vautier’s best finish was fourth in Race 2 at Detroit, while Daly finished second in Race 1 at Detroit, finished fourth at Watkins Glen, and scored a trio of sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, Race 2 at Detroit, and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

And 2017 was set to possibly be the best year the team has ever had. Sebastien Bourdais gave the team a popular win in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and then rookie Ed Jones scored back-to-back top tens – 10th and sixth – at St. Pete and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to start his career.

But, things started unraveling at the Indianapolis 500. Bourdais appeared set to be in the Fast Nine Pole Shootout during his first qualifying run – both of his first two laps were above 231 mph –  before his horrifying crash in Turn 2.

While Jones qualified an impressive 11th and finished an even more impressive third, results for the rest of the season became hard to come by – Jones only scored two more Top 10s, with a best result of seventh at Road America.

But, retooled for 2018, the Coyne team is a legitimate threat at the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Bourdais, whose No. 18 Honda features new sponsorship from SealMaster and now ownership partners in Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan, has a win already, again at St. Pete, and sits third in the championship.

And Bourdais may also be Honda’s best hope, given that he was the fastest Honda in qualifying – he’ll start fifth behind Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, and Josef Newgarden.

“I think it speaks volumes about their work, their passion and their dedication to this program, Dale (Coyne), Jimmy (Vasser) and Sulli (James Sullivan) and everybody from top to bottom. I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity, for the support,” Bourdais said of the team’s effort.

Rookie Zachary Claman De Melo has been progressing nicely, and his Month of May has been very solid – he finished 12th at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS Road Course and qualified a strong 13th for the “500.”

“It’s been surreal to be here as rookie. I’m a bit at a loss for words,” Claman De Melo revealed after qualifying. “The fans, driving around this place, being with the team, everything is amazing. I have a great engineer, a great group of experienced mechanics at Dale Coyne Racing.”

While Conor Daly and Pippa Mann struggled in one-off entries, with Mann getting bumped out of the field in Saturday qualifying, Daly’s entry essentially puts three Coyne cars in the race – Daly’s No. 17 United States Air Force Honda is a Dale Coyne car that has been leased to Thom Burns Racing.

Rest assured, the days of Coyne being an “also ran” are long gone, and a Coyne car ending up in Victory Lane at the biggest race of the year would complete the Chicago Cubs analogy – the Cubs won a World Series title in 2016, and an Indy 500 triumph would be the crowning achievement in Coyne’s career.

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