Senftenberg, Germany When Bryan Herta took a spin around the new EuroSpeedway oval, he was accompanied by the nonstop roar of 80,000 spectators.
No race or qualifying was taking place at the 1,500-acre complex just opening ceremonies earlier this month. But German fans were clearly delighted to watch a Champ car race around the two-mile oval for the first time.
"It's going to be spectacular," said Herta, who made the trip to Germany as a favor to CART team owner Derrick Walker. "The track is very wide and I think passing should be good."
EuroSpeedway, a $112 million complex about 60 miles southeast of Berlin, is the first in Europe to combine both the oval track used on many American circuits with a road course, like the ones favored by Formula One.
A CART race is scheduled in September 2001, followed a week later by a stop at the new oval being built in Rockingham, England.
CART, which will hold eight of 22 events outside the United States next season, is being welcomed by both EuroSpeedway's ambitious management and practically everybody else that hasn't fled the region known as the Lausitz.
The area, once communist East Germany's coal region, has become a desolate place since strip mining was shut down following German unification 10 years ago.
The city nearest the track, Senftenberg, is plagued by one of the highest unemployment rates in Germany. Officially it's 25 percent, with another 10 percent in job or training programs, while countless former mine workers have been forced into early retirement to get them off the unemployment rolls.
Senftenberg dates back to the 13th century, but can't escape its recent past. Huge coal craters butt up against every side of the city. Paving over one of them for the track has raised the hopes of locals.
"We'll have to wait and see, but everybody's enthusiastic," said Susann Noatmik. "At least the city won't be dying. Maybe it will even get modern."
Although the track will employ only about 70 people full time, EuroSpeedway's big plans could mean the need for more hotels, restaurants and other businesses in the service industry.