07/15/2008 11:00PM

Campbell steps to plate for Mich. racing


HURON TOWNSHIP, Mich. - As opening day approached for Pinnacle Race Course last week, Jerry Campbell pulled into the parking lot of the new track in suburban Detroit's Huron Township and surveyed the project he had created from what less than a year ago was 320 acres of swampy fields. No worries for Campbell.

"I'm sleeping fine," he said. "I'm so tired, I'm sleeping fine."

Campbell has reason to feel fatigued because in addition to his day job as chairman, president, and chief executive officer of CNBS Financial Group Inc., a bank holding company headquartered in Tampa, Fla., he has been out at Pinnacle putting the finishing touches on Michigan's new track.

He had spent four hours the day before helping his wife, Lisa, install support bars in stalls in every barn.

"She's over there since dawn with a drill and a bit," he said of his wife, who is a trainer and breeder. "So I helped her out."

Campbell, 68, is betting millions of his own money that, as majority owner of Pinnacle, he will be able to make Thoroughbred racing a success in Michigan where others have failed. And it's not the first time.

As owner of the shuttered Muskegon Raceway, a harness plant in the western part of the state, Campbell was critical in the conversion of that track to Thoroughbred racing 10 years ago when Ladbroke DRC gave up on its suburban Detroit meeting. And when Ontario-based Magna Entertainment Corp. threw in the towel on its plans to build a track similar in design and location to Pinnacle last August, Campbell stepped in once again.

"We were really hoping that Magna would build a track, and if not Magna, then perhaps someone else," he said. "At 4:30 p.m. on the last day in August, which was when we had to file the dates application, we checked and no one had filed. Had someone else filed, we wouldn't have. So in the last half-hour of the last day, we filed, and we've been on a hectic pace ever since then."

Campbell has overcome the obstacles and the skeptics to make Pinnacle a reality. He had to get 35 different governmental permits in a short time line.

"Everybody said the time schedule to get those permits is longer than the time you have available," he said. "It really has been a big challenge time-wise, but the team has pulled it together and it's quite a sight."

And when the gates open for the first race Friday?

"Probably a sigh of relief and a little excitement," Campbell said. "I've been in racing here in Michigan for 35 years. I'm kind of a contrarian. I've done a lot of things. I've started 10 different banks in three states in my career. I don't know of anyone who's done that. I believe that playing a little behind and a little scared is a healthy thing to do. It makes you work harder. We think that this can work. We definitely are optimists, but I'd rather go down swinging than never go to the plate."

If Thoroughbred racing in Michigan strikes out, it won't be because Campbell didn't take some healthy cuts.