Woody: Jerry Carroll Deserves Some Credit
By Larry Woody | Senior Writer
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 firstname.lastname@example.org Comments