CECIL -- A festive atmosphere greeted the crowd of more than 400 who turned out Tuesday afternoon to see Gov. Sonny Perdue, Rep. Jack Kingston and other dignitaries officially turn the first spades of dirt at the South Georgia Motorsports Park on Highway 41 north of Cecil.

"This is the newest economic development project in the state of Georgia," Perdue said. "Tourism will grow as we develop attractions and destinations to appeal to people. With 200,000 visitors a year possible, this will be a big boost to the local and statewide taxes."

The vision of developer Larry Dean, the 350-acre park will have an estimated regional economic impact of $37 million. Cook County wooed the developer after his proposal to build the complex in southern Lowndes County met with opposition.

Bill Holt, Southeast Director of the National Hot Rod Association, announced a Lucas Oil Drag Racing divisional finals event will be held at the track June 4-6 which could bring in 20,000 or more fans.

Holt said the park brings to 150 the total number of NHRA member tracks, with anticipated events including Junior Drag Racing, Operation Street Legal, Lucas Oil Drag Racing and more.

According to Dean, the park will include a quarter mile dragway built to NHRA specifications which will be finished in March, and a half mile paved oval track with compound banking which will be finished in mid-2004. His son, Chad Dean, will manage the dragway and Tim Pafford will manage the oval track.

The park will be well lit for evening events, and each area has its own stands and tower, so two events could be held simultaneously.

Dean said the park will have events scheduled every weekend, and envisions car shows, rodeos, monster truck rallies, tractor pulls and even soap box derbies.

"This is something South Georgia needs," he said.

The development was aided by the Department of Transportation and the Department of Community Affairs, according to Perdue, with nearly $500,000 in grant money from the state used to extend the water and sewer from Adel and to improve roads and intersections near the complex.

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