Bruton Smith at Kentucky Speedway
After about a decade of trying, Kentucky Speedway in the small northern town of Sparta finally earned a date on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule in 2011. The debut Sprint Cup event at the track was highly anticipated, as Kentucky Speedway was the first track in several years to break into the ranks of tracks at NASCAR's top level.
But that race last summer ended up turning into somewhat of a disaster, as far as the fan experience was concerned. Thousands of cars sat at a standstill for miles on I-71, in line to get into the track for the historic event. After hours of sitting in traffic, thousands of ticket-holding fans were turned away, unable to attend the race, despite having tickets to the event in-hand.
Fans who were turned away claimed seeing empty parking lots, temporary staff hired to direct traffic were accused of not knowing what they were doing, and Speedway Motorsports Inc. (parent company of Kentucky Speedway) CEO Bruton Smith declared I-71 the worst stretch of interstate in the U.S.
“Kentucky Speedway regrets the traffic conditions surrounding the Quaker State 400,” Kentucky Speedway General Manager Mark Simendinger said. “We’re committed to working with NASCAR, state and local officials and traffic experts to assure that this never happens again.”
Despite what was widely discussed within the motorsports media in the days and weeks that followed the debacle as a black eye on the image of NASCAR, Kentucky didn't lose its all-too-precious spot on the Sprint Cup schedule for 2012. The track gets a second shot, but not before a stern warning from NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France.
“This situation cannot happen again,” France said.
That second shot is coming up soon, with the Sprint Cup Series scheduled to compete in the Bluegrass State in a Saturday night showdown on June 30, with preliminary Camping World Truck and Nationwide series events to be held the two nights prior.
What steps has the track taken to make sure things go more smoothly this time around?
With the purchase of additional acreage and a change of purpose to some of the existing speedway property, some 300 acres of new parking was added to accommodate about 20,000 additional vehicles.
Roadways leading into the speedway were also expanded by widening and lane additions to assist in getting traffic off of I-71 as efficiently as possible. And speaking of I-71, the interstate was also widened through the area.
In addition, Kentucky State Police have devised an extensive traffic control plan that was revealed recently.
Some fans who at least tried to attend the inaugural Sprint Cup event at the track a year ago may have been so turned off by the experience that they simply decide to stay home this time around. But for those willing to give the Kentucky Speedway another chance, Smith, SMI and NASCAR are confident that the past is in the past and fans will have a much better experience in 2012.
NASCAR will be watching closely to see how it goes. Still, Kentucky State Police fans encourage race goers to leave home early.
Photo of Bruton Smith at Kentucky Speedway courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR