VIP visit prompts removal of ‘Dale Trail’ signs in Kannapolis

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Jessie Burchette
jburchette@salisburypost.com
The city of Kannapolis is taking its “Dale Trail” banners down at the request of Castle & Cooke, the developers of the N.C. Research Center ó and they won’t be going back up.
According to e-mails, California billionaire David Murdock, owner of Castle & Cook, is coming to town Saturday with a very important guest and wants to put the “best face on the city.”
The banners along with a statue in Cannon Village honor the town’s most famous native, Dale Earnhardt, who died in a last lap wreck in the Daytona 500 in 2001.
And according to the e-mails, Castle & Cooke doesn’t want anything related to Dale Earnhardt to go back up.

The Dale Trail was developed after Murdock commissioned a 9-foot bronze statue of Earnhardt, the seven-time Winston Cup champion. The statue is located a small park in Cannon Village, which Murdock also owns.
No one is saying who the very important guest is, although some have speculated about Oprah Winfrey. Murdock previously announced he is working on a joint project with the entertainment billionaire.
In the past week, city officials, Castle & Cooke and the Cabarrus Convention and Visitors Bureau have exchanged e-mails about removing the Dale Trail banners and debated whether the NASCAR theme fits with re-inventing the city as the “Home to Science.”
In a July 18 memo, City Manager Mike Legg advised councilmen and other officials of the decision to take down the banners, noting the Cabarrus Convention and Visitors Bureau is agreeable but wants to put up other flags or markers in the future.
The Convention and Visitors Bureau paid $14,000 for the banners and brackets.
“There may be a conflict as to what happens later,” Legg wrote. “There are many (including everybody at Castle and Cooke) that do not want to see anything ‘Dale related’ go back up. Somewhere, there is the right mix between racing, tourism and life science, but that needs to be worked through.”
Legg offered reasons for going slowly in agreeing to replace the banners or install Dale Trail markers or monuments along city streets.

He cited an idea offered by Lynn Scott Safrit, president of Castle & Cooke N.C., that the “city adopt the ‘Home to Science’ tagline on all we do.”
Legg advised councilmen about an upcoming strategic planning session to develop a potential marketing program for the Home to Science initiative. “All the more reason to hold off on replacing the Dale Trail signs,” Legg wrote in the July 18 memo.
He also cited a planned $20 million renovation of Loop Road/Dale Earnhardt Boulevard from the northern railroad crossing to the southern railroad crossing. He suggested taking a fresh look at city’s regulations for signs, monuments, landscaping and lights.
In a July 17 e-mail, Phyllis Beaver, director of marketing for the N.C. Research Campus, questioned the benefit of the Dale Trail.

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In the e-mail to Safrit, which was copied to the city, Beaver suggested possibly having different seasonal flags which could include a racing theme.
She added, “The Dale Trail in Kannapolis consists of Ralph’s (Earnhardt, Dale’s father) tombstone at Centergrove and the statute here. Other than those two things, we are directing people through here to move on to other destinations, namely to DEI from the (Cannon) Village. Since Dale Jr. is no longer (with DEI), do we need to be sending them out there, or do they have Hendricks (Motorsports) on the Trail now?”
Dale Earnhardt Inc., founded by the driver before his death, is located in Mooresville on Mooresville Road, which the state changed from N.C. 136 to N.C. 3 in his honor.
In an earlier e-mail to DeSales Wagster, president of the Cabarrus County Convention and Visitors Bureau, Beaver thanked Wagster for assistance in getting the “flags down before the arrival of important guests on July 26.” Beaver noted many of the flags are dirty and several damaged by the wind.
Wagster said Thursday that the Visitors Bureau is committed to keeping the Dale Trail alive with the use of markers or a CD or other audio tour.
Wagster said she sees no conflict between motorsports and science.
“We’re extremely proud of motorsports and what it has brought as we transition into one of the largest bio-tech areas,” she said. “They are very compatible. There is truly room for both.”
Visitors Bureau will sell the banners, Wagster said, noting anything connected to Earnhardt remains valuable.
The Visitors Bureau will pay the city for taking down the banners, she said.
Contacted by the Post, Councilman Richard Anderson said the idea of taking down the banners because Murdock has a guest coming is disrespectful to the Earnhardt family, including Dale’s mother, Martha, a Kannapolis resident.
“From Day 1, it’s been about exploiting Dale’s fame. Kannapolis has never done anything except try to exploit the Earnhardt name. Murdock wanted the tribute, thinking it would bring a lot of business to Cannon Village. It never worked. People come and take pictures at the statue and go on to DEI.”
For more information on the Dale Trail go to the web site www.daletrail.com.

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