02/06/2002 12:00AM

Chicago Speedway cancels autos


Chicago Motor Speedway has suspended its 2002 auto-racing schedule just four years after entirely revamping Sportsman's Park to dive into the auto-racing business. The cancellation leaves the 70,000-seat facility with only its 10 weeks of live horse racing in the spring.

Charlie Bidwill, chairman of the board of the Chicago Motor Speedway Corporation, said the cancellation of auto racing does not affect the National Jockey Club Corporation, which conducts Thoroughbred racing at Sportsman's Park and of which Bidwill is president. The NJC is an investor in Chicago Motor Speedway, but is a separate business entity.

In a statement released this week, Bidwill cited "business and economic conditions in the motorsports industry today" as motivation for the cancellation. Wednesday, Bidwill said a disagreement with the CART racing association over a sanction fee - a payment host tracks make for CART-associated races - led to the cancellation of Chicago Motor Speedway's centerpiece race, the Target Grand Prix. That brought about the collapse of the rest of the auto-racing season, which was to have been made up of lesser events. The track has held a total of 12 races during its three seasons of operation.

After selling out the Target Grand Prix in 1999, its first season, the speedway saw attendance decline in the next two years. Last year's attendance, Bidwill said, was off 22 percent from 1999.