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Woody: Jerry Carroll Deserves Some Credit

Larry Woody | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, January 6 2010
Kentucky has a Cup-worthy track but as of yet, no Cup race. (File photo courtesy of NASCAR)

Kentucky has a Cup-worthy track but as of yet, no Cup race. (File photo courtesy of NASCAR)

By Larry Woody | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Jerry Carroll, one of the founders of Kentucky Speedway, is sometimes portrayed as a cantankerous maverick whose litigious battle with NASCAR stood in the way of the track getting a Sprint Cup race.

Having known Jerry for the better part of two decades – I first met him when he was a golf pro at a posh Nashville country club – I’m convinced he simply waged a battle for what he believed was right.

Carroll, who made his fortune in the rough-and-tumble world of commercial development, could never understand how a family that owned several major racetracks could also govern the sport and arbitrarily decide which tracks got races.

The business structure of NASCAR and the France family may be a bit more complicated than that but Carroll, as is his nature, saw the situation in plain black and white.

He built a racetrack second to none at a reported cost of $170 million. He sold out his annual Nationwide and IndyCar races and he tirelessly promoted racing in the fan-rich region. He felt he had earned a Cup race, yet NASCAR refused to give him one – while granting races to other new tracks.

Carroll took his case to court. Now after years of bitter litigation – during which time the track was sold – Carroll and his partners have dropped their suit. That opens the way, ironically, for a Cup race to be secured by new track owner Speedway Motorsports Inc.

If you’re confused about why NASCAR might grant SMI a race after adamantly refusing Carroll one for all these years, you’re not alone.

But one thing is fairly certain: If not for Jerry Carroll there wouldn’t be any Kentucky Cup race quibbling because there probably wouldn’t be a major racetrack in that state.

I was sequestered in The Tennessean sports department one morning when my phone rang. It was Carroll, and he wanted a favor. He wanted Darrell Waltrip’s private phone number.

I explained that I’d been given D.W.’s number only after taking a blood-oath to never give it out. Never, ever.

Jerry said he was certain that Waltrip would want to take his call. After swearing me to secrecy, he explained why: He was putting together an investment group to build a state-of-the-art racetrack in Kentucky and he wanted to enlist Waltrip’s support.

Darrell, a native of Owensboro, remains tremendously popular in his home state and Carroll wanted to utilize that popularity as well as draw on Waltrip’s vast racing expertise.

I told Carroll to give me his number and I’d call D.W. and ask him to give him a call.

They got together, Waltrip assisted Carroll in getting the project launched, and within a few years a gleaming new track had arisen from the barren hills.

I remember Carroll’s words that morning: “Look, I don’t know anything about auto racing – horse racing has always been my sport. But since I’ve been living in Nashville I’ve followed racing and I’ve seen those giant crowds that turn out. I believe it has a great future and I’d like to invest in it.”

Carroll, that morning, asked for one other phone number: NASCAR headquarters in Daytona. He said he wanted to contact with Bill France Jr. and Mike Helton and begin laying the groundwork for a Winston Cup (now Sprint Cup) race. I gave Carroll the NASCAR number, along with a warning that securing a Cup race wouldn’t be easy.

“Don’t worry,” Jerry said, “when we get our track completed it’ll be so big and beautiful and first-class that NASCAR can’t possibly refuse us.”

Turned out he was wrong – NASCAR could and did refuse, for whatever reasons – and Carroll spent years fighting that decision in the courts. Now he’s surrendered. NASCAR won, as it has always done whenever its control is challenged.

It’s been a long, winding, complex road, but one thing is fairly certain: If not for Jerry Carroll there would be no NASCAR in the Bluegrass – today or ever.

–Larry Woody can be reached at lwoody@racintoday.com

Larry Woody | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, January 6 2010
6 Comments

6 Comments »

  • Terrell Davis says:

    Good grief, anyone in their right mind knows that the France family owning NASCAR means that the France family (NASCAR) has the final say as to which tracks are sanctioned for Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck races. Obviously Nationwide and Truck series races aren’t hard to come by. Stand alone races in those series struggle to make a profit, but the lucrative Cup events, even with dwindling tickets sales, still makes millions, so the France family (NASCAR) can and does “play favorites” as to which tracks are granted Cup events. And it’s for sure that tracks their company owns get preferential treatment when it comes to Cup dates being granted. Is it a conflict of interest? Of course it is. Will it ever change. Of course it won’t. What Carroll should have done was build the track and invite the France family to own a majority interest in it. Then he would have gotten his cup date(s). When Bruton….uh, I mean one of his company’s stockholders… sued NASCAR Bruton,,,uh, the stockholder, had more power than Carroll could muster. Of course, if empty seats continue to multiply for cup races as they have in the Nationwide and Truck series, NASCAR may want to give a few dates away. But, then again maybe just to prove how well NASCAR can self promote, they may build a few more tracks, grant Cup dates to them and then tell everyone that, “in this economy it’s absolutely great that we (NASCAR) can sell half the seats”.

  • Keith says:

    I don’t like the France family but I am a business owner who owns my company like the France family does and I don’t want anyone telling me where to run or how to run my business. They do not own stock car or auto racing they own a few racing series. There are other stock car series in the country and the world ARCA and ASA for example. They do not tell anyone if they race in another series they can’t run Nascar or if they run at another competitors track they can’t race at ISC tracks. There is no monopoly this is why Kentucky keeps losing and before he built the place they told him that he would not get a cup date because it is to close to INDY and Bristol and the market is covered. The Texas case had merit because SMI Built the track with a promise to get a race date and they happened to buy the second date before they secured the date they were promised. When you own a private business your responsibilty is to your self ,shareholders , bondholders, employees and the debtors you don’t give away your product to let someone else make a profit and you lose that revenue or cancel a contract with someone you have been doing business with for a long time and making plenty of money with and have to gamble on something else.

  • Scott says:

    Jerry Carroll is not alone in thinking that the France family’s conflict of interest is illegal, immoral and not in the best interest of stock car racing in this country.

    • Marc says:

      That’s probably true Scott, however the judge in this case in fact two judges, are “alone” and they ruled the suit had zero merit. In addition one interesting facts is the lawyer that reprsented Ferko’s case against NASCAR was asked to be part of the Kentucky legal team.

      He declined saying the Kentucky case has far less chance to win than the Ferko case.

      He as one who can be classified as an expert in the matter was exactly right.

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