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Kansas Gearing Up For Second Cup Race

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Saturday, December 19 2009
Pit stops during the 2009 race at Kansas Speedway were conducted in front of packed grandstands. Can Kansas fill the place twice a year? It appears they will find out. (Photo by Geoff Burke/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Pit stops during the 2009 race at Kansas Speedway were conducted in front of packed grandstands. Can Kansas fill the place twice a year? It appears they will find out. (Photo by Geoff Burke/Getty Images for NASCAR)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

Kansas City, Kan. – It appears the wish that Kansas Speedway president Jeff Boerger has been harboring for the last 10 years is about to be granted. It appears that if things go as most people in racing think they will go, Boerger will soon be joining the fraternity of presidents who preside over two-Cup-race venues.

“I suspect that Kansas will soon have a second date,” Boerger said this week. Perhaps, he added, during the 2011 racing season.

What neither Boerger nor anybody else seems to know right now is where that second date will come from. That is, which other track will have to surrender a date to Kansas.

Earlier this month, the State of Kansas approved construction of a casino and hotel project in Turn Two of the speedway. That news prompted Boerger on Friday to say yes, he and track-owner International Speedway Corp. will soon petition NASCAR for the granting of a second Sprint Cup date.

He said it is likely the second date for his track – if granted – would be for a late-spring or early summer race.

Boerger also said he hoped that the prospective new race would be held at night as the track would like to add lighting.

“We would prefer (the new race) be under the lights but there are a lot of others involved in that decision,” Boerger said. “NASCAR, ISC and our media partners.”

Boerger’s optimism for a second race is not without foundation.

ISC is a sister company of NASCAR. Both companies are owned and operated by the same people, the France family of Daytona Beach, Fla.

NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France has stated in the past that he favors a second yearly Cup date at Kansas, which currently hosts a race which is part of the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship.

Boerger and ISC, which is headed by Lesa France Kennedy, have said in the past that they would apply to NASCAR for the second date as soon as they had secured permission to build a casino.

It had appeared that that permission was obtained last year. But when the national economy tanked, Boerger and ISC went back to the state to ask that the project be constructed in phases, with the casino being built immediately and the hotel when the economy improved.

They were told that phasing-in the project was not part of the original plan which had been OK’d by the state, and bidding for the project was re-opened.

That occurred earlier this year.

This month, Kansas Speedway and its partners were once again awarded construction rights.

There are still a few small hurdles to be clear before ground is broken on the site as the state is conducting background checks on new partner Penn National Gaming Inc., but it appears that bulldozers will arrive at Kansas in the late spring to begin work on the Hollywood-themed casino.

In 2011, Kansas Speedway will join Dover International Speedway as the only NASCAR tracks which have casinos on their grounds.

The initial phase of the new facility, budgeted at $386 million, will include a 100,000-square-foot casino floor with capacity for 2,300 slot machines and 86 table games, a “high-energy” lounge and a variety of dining and entertainment options. Additional project phases including a hotel, expanded gaming space, a spa, convention center and entertainment retail district. Those have been master planned and will be developed based on market demand.

Boerger said that permission to build the casino also signals a reviving of plans to build an infield road-racing course at Kansas and the quest for a Grand-Am Rolex Series sports car event.

“We are state of the art,” Boerger said of Kansas Speedway, a 1.5-mile oval which launched in 2001. “We plan to keep rolling forward.”

While it looks fairly certain that NASCAR will grant Kansas a second Cup date, it is not certain where that race will come from.

It will have to be taken from another ISC track as NASCAR has said it has no plans to expand its current 36-race schedule.

The process of applying for the second date, Boerger said, “is pretty simple”.

“Kansas Speedway will write a letter to NASCAR petitioning for a second date. We are working with Interntional Speedway Corp. They will determine which of our sister tracks, tracks within our portfolio, will be the donor track.”

Based on past statements by NASCAR officials, it appears the petition will be granted.

Boerger said there is some sadness that a sister track will have to give up a date, but, he said, “It’s the way the business goes. It’s unfortunate. But at the end of the day it’s what’s best for our fans and shareholders.”

Boerger said he is confident his track will be able to handle two dates. He pointed to the all-but-full grandstands for the 2009 event as evidence of ability to attract fans to the 82,000-seat venue.

Kansas is very much a regional track. There are no other tracks which host Cup races within 500 miles. Boerger said that has always help fill his grandstands.

Also boding well for attracting big crowds is the fact that the track is just 15 miles from re-vitalized downtown Kansas City, is surrounded by a thriving retail shopping, entertainment and restaurant district which will soon include a major new water park, and now, it appears, will have a full-service casino on the grounds.

The Kansas weekend has become popular with teams and drivers over the years because of the extracurricular activities in Kansas City.

“It’s all about sustainability and we think we can do that,” he said.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Saturday, December 19 2009