Dismissing naysayers: President of High Rock Raceway confident project will happen
By Steve Huffman
SPENCER ó Richard F. Combs has heard it all before, people doubting that the proposed High Rock Raceway will ever see the light of day.
But on a recent visit to the site of the proposed track, the president of High Rock Raceway reiterated what he’s said numerous times ó plans for the facility are coming together quite nicely.
“People are looking for a lot of cleared land, a lot of buildings going up,” he said. “Take my word for it, that’s coming.”
Combs admitted that securing the $30 million needed to develop the 130-acre property “has been slow.”
But he said almost all the hurdles have been cleared, and he expects a team of bulldozers to be working at the site by August. The track should be operational, Combs said, next summer.
“People are used to going to the bank for a car loan and getting that loan the same day,” he said. “The thing is, they don’t get a $30 million car loan. This is a little more complicated.”
Combs said financing for the track can’t be secured from a traditional bank, saying the money must instead come from venture capitalists. He said an appraisal of the property that takes into account what the track will look like when built is in the process of being completed.
“The payment’s been approved, the money’s been approved,” Combs said. “But they can’t give the money until they get the final numbers.”
Combs, 61, comes across as a sincerely nice person. While touring the raceway site in his air-conditioned Ford Expedition, Combs rolled down the window and waved broadly to a worker manning a bulldozer.
He’s a resident of Atlanta who’s in the process of moving to Salisbury, he said, to be closer to the track. Combs is silver-haired and wears a dress shirt and tie even on days when the temperature climbs into the mid-90s.
His suit jacket is in the back of the Expedition and shedding it is his one concession to the day’s heat.
Combs is a member of the board of directors of First Charter Bank and in 1978 founded Pureflow Ultraviolet Inc., an industrial ultraviolet technology application company.
Combs has obtained national and professional racing licenses and qualified three times for the Sports Car Club of America’s national championships. He was a charter member and regular participant in the Shelby CanAm Pro Racing Series, an event founded by racing legend Carroll Shelby.
Combs still races on occasion, one of his cars being a ’65 Chevy Corvette, the kind of ride that most middle-aged men still dream about.
“This is my passion,” Combs said as he surveyed the land that’s to become High Rock Raceway. “I don’t do this for money. I do it because it’s what I love.”
Combs said 94 of the track’s 120 townhomes have been pre-sold, each buyer investing a minimum of $25,000 for the units.
“They’ve all made significant investments,” he said.
Combs said that while the first phase of the track’s development is for 130 acres, a second phase includes plans for 70 more acres west of U.S. 29/70, land that borders the Yadkin River.
That second phase is for retail shops, private homes and a hotel. Combs said that with any luck, it’ll feature a river walk along the Yadkin.
“But we’ve got to have the race track first,” Combs said. “Then the people will come.”
He said initial estimates are for the track to generate 184 jobs, about half of which will be full time. Combs said that over the next year, $30 million will be spent at the track, the money generating an economic impact 3.5 times that amount in Rowan and surrounding counties.
He said the track will one day host crowds of 20,000 or even 30,000 people, crowds that will be “no problem at all” to accommodate.
On other days, the track will be open to drivers competing on a much smaller venue, competitions where wannabe race buffs will finally get a chance to realize their dreams in sports cars they’ve helped build.
“You’ll probably be doing 120 miles per hour, come out of this curve and stomp it down the straightaway,” Combs said, motioning toward a track that at this point exists nowhere other than in the minds of its developers.
“Oh, yeah, it’s going to happen.”