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Woody: Carroll’s Bluegrass Dream Comes True

Larry Woody | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, August 13 2010

Kentucky Speedway finally got what it has been chasing when it was announced this week that it would host a Sprint Cup race next year. (Photo courtesy of NASCAR)

Larry Woody | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Nashville – I was sitting at my desk in The Tennessean in sports department one morning some 12 years ago when the phone rang. On the other end was Jerry Carroll, a former Nashville country club golf pro and prominent real estate developer.

Jerry said he needed Darrell Waltrip’s private phone number.

I explained that I wasn’t supposed to give it out.

“Trust me,” Carroll said, “this is one call Darrell will want to get.”

He went on to tell me – off the record for the time being – about his plans to build a state-of-the-art racetrack in Kentucky, and he wanted to enlist Waltrip’s help. Darrell is a native Kentuckian and a popular figure in his home state.

“And he knows racing, which I don’t,” Carroll said. “I want to make him part of this project.”

It’s been a long, hard, frustrating climb, but earlier this week Carroll’s vision of bringing big-time NASCAR racing to the Bluegrass State became reality. NASCAR announced that Kentucky Speedway will be on next season’s Sprint Cup schedule.

Fittingly, Carroll and Waltrip were on hand for Tuesday’s press conference along with Speedway Motorsports, Inc. boss Bruton Smith, who bought the track last year.

It’s been quite a battle, with Carroll and his partners taking NASCAR to court when it balked at giving the track a Cup race. They finally surrendered and sold the facility to SMI, which will transfer one of its two Cup races from its Atlanta track.

Ever since running its first race in the 2000 NASCAR truck series, Kentucky Speedway has been a huge box office success. It has regularly drawn 70,000-seat sellouts during a time when attendance has dwindled at other tracks.

Those monster crowds didn’t surprise Carroll, who had been previously involved with thoroughbred horse tracks. He believed the Speedway, located between Louisville and Cincinnati, was in perfect location to tap into major, race-starved markets in Kentucky and Ohio.

When Carroll revealed his plan to build an auto racing track he admitted he knew “absolutely nothing” about auto racing. Except the fact that it drew a jillion fans.

“I’ve seen those big crowds,” he said, “and I can imagine the potential of a track in Kentucky. I don’t know anything about racing – that’s why I want to bring Waltrip and other experts aboard – but I recognize success when I see it, and NASCAR is the sport of the future.”

As successful as the track has been during its first decade, it’s going to be even bigger and better under Smith’s deep-pockets direction. The same man who transformed Bristol Raceway from a rural bull ring into the jewel of NASCAR plans to immediately invest $90-$100 million in Kentucky Speedway upgrades. The first order of business is to add 120,000 seats, boosting capacity to around 190,000.

The economic impact on the area – which already has been tremendous with the mid-level racing – is projected to soar to $150 million a year with the July 9 Cup race.

It’s unclear what role, if any, Carroll will play in the new SMI operation. But what is undeniable is that without his vision and determination, the track wouldn’t exist.

For Jerry Carroll it is, literally, a dream come true.

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

Larry Woody | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, August 13 2010
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