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SMI’s Bruton Smith, Helton Give Traffic Reports

Info Manager | , RacinToday.com Friday, July 15 2011

SMI's O. Bruton Smith met with reporters Friday and took a combatitive tone. (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)

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O. Bruton Smith, chairman of the company which owns Kentucky Speedway, and NASCAR president Mike Helton addressed the traffic problems which boiled over at the track last weekend during separate meetings with the media Friday.

Both executives said the problems surrounding the inaugural Quaker State 400 would be fixed, but the tones of their remarks were noticeably different.

Smith, the founder of Speedway Motorsports Inc., was defiant and combative during his news conference in the media center at his New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, N.H., site of Sunday’s Lenox Industrial Tools 301.

“We had a traffic problem,” Smith said, “we didn’t have a seat problem. Other than that, I think everything was fantastic.”

Smith said the problem rested not solely with Kentucky Speedway. He said Interstate 71, the main highway into the track, was to blame. He also said the company he hired to park cars did “a lousy job.”

Helton said NASCAR is looking into the traffic problem which occurred Saturday as

Mike Helton says the problems at Kentucky will be addressed and fixed. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

Kentucky Speedway played host to its first Sprint Cup Series event. He refused to speculate on whether or not Cup would return to the track located in the town of Sparta next year.

“I don’t want to speculate on that type of thing,” Helton said. “I can’t help but think, you look at the history of our sport, we’ve had issues that happen, and we generally figure out how to work through them.

“I think what we’re after right now is to figure out what happened in Sparta and figure out what the cure is for it. Outside of that, I don’t have an opinion at this point. But we’re working toward a resolution.”

Helton apologized to fans and said NASCAR will be holding high-level talks with Kentucky Speedway officials.

“We will not let this fall by the wayside,” Helton said.

Kentucky Speedway officials announced a sellout of the recently expanded 106,000-seat grandstands a week before the event. On race day, a traffic jam kept thousands of people from getting to their seats by time the event started. A lack of on-site parking also kept thousands of more fans from reaching the track at all.

News of the problem spread through social media networks and what should have been a good day for the track and for NASCAR turned into a public relations fiasco.

Track officials issued several statements taking blame for the incident and promised problems would be fixed.

“Everybody is engaged in this topic to find out exactly what happened,” said Helton, who added NASCAR officials were very happy that the track had attracted such a large crowd and that interest in the race was high in the area.

“We were very pleased and excited about the overall support that fans showed the inaugural Sprint Cup race in Kentucky last week,” Helton said. “It was impressive. Don’t want that to get overshadowed.”

He termed the traffic woes “unfortunate” but said sometimes “hiccups” occur. Asked how NASCAR would overcome the resulting PR problems, Helton said he expected good racing to be the cure.

SMI experienced similar traffic and parking issues when Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth played host to its inaugural Cup race in April 1997. Those problems, and a flaw in the design of the 1.5-mile quadoval, were quickly addressed and resolved by Smith and Eddie Gossage, TMS president.

On Monday, Mark Simendinger, Kentucky Speedway’s general manager, issued an apology to fans inconvenienced and said SMI would be working with NASCAR, state and local officials and traffic experts “to ensure that we never have this type of experience again.”

Additionally, Marcus Smith, president and chief operating officer of his father’s company, announced that fans with tickets who were unable to attend Saturday night’s event would have their tickets honored at any remaining 2011 Sprint Cup race at an SMI facility or the 2012 Sprint Cup race at Kentucky Speedway.

The ticket exchange is good for the following events at SMI facilities while supplies last at each respective venue:

July 17 – New Hampshire Motor Speedway

Aug. 27 – Bristol Motor Speedway

Sept. 4 – Atlanta Motor Speedway

Sept. 25 – New Hampshire Motor Speedway

Oct. 15 – Charlotte Motor Speedway

Nov. 6 – Texas Motor Speedway

2012 – Kentucky Speedway

In addition to the ticket exchange, Kentucky Speedway will issue these fans an equal quantity of tickets to either its Oct. 1 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series 225-mile race or Oct. 2 IZOD IndyCar Series 300-mile event. For information on ticket exchange and redemption, fans should only contact the Kentucky Speedway ticket office at 859-578-2300 or by email at tickets@kentuckyspeedway.com.

Info Manager | , RacinToday.com Friday, July 15 2011
4 Comments

4 Comments »

  • BobH says:

    Until Bruton Smith acknowleges that he has a serious problem with parking nothing will change for the better. I71 is NOT the problem. Parking cars IS the problem. Saturday we were in our car for over 5 hours for a drive that took just over an hour Friday afternoon. We didn’t see but one person who was directing traffic on Saturday. We veered off and found a spot to park about 7:20 PM; we got to our seats as the field came out of turn four heading to the green flag. We were very fortunate. Thousands of other fans weren’t so lucky. Getting 110,000 paying fans into this facility requires personel directing and parking vehicles in an orderly and timely manner. I didn’t expect to get there and drive in and park right away. I figured it would be 2 1/2 hours, but never dreamed it would be more than twice that amount of time. Mike Helton understands the situation. I hope he can shake Mr. Smith out of his denial to fix the problem. Otherwise, Kentucky Speedway is not fit to ever host a Cup race.

    • Sandy says:

      I 71 is 4 lanes in each direction (both north and south) in that vicinity. How on earth is I 71 the culprit? From what I read in the days after the race, they said they ran out of parking places, and that is what caused the backup. Does Bruton seriously think that KY is going to widen I 71 to 100 lanes in each direction to take care of the traffic. Come on, get serious. Get more parking and more control after the vehicles exit I 71 to get to the speedway.

  • Tim Weiler says:

    Unfortunately, Mr. Smith’s employees are afraid to tell him the root cause of the problem. I-71 can and did handle the traffic. KSP had to close down the exit ramp from the north at noon. You close the ramp when the track cannot handle the volume. Mike Helton mentioned the traffic plan and the nice graphics. The plan was abandoned 7.5 hours before the race when they closed one of two track accesses. I am trying to get the word out because we were there when they closed the ramp and sent us to the ramp south of the track. Everyone was funneled to one exit. Bruton was correct. The parking company was “lousy”. I am sure there were several bids and the lowest price with the fewest resources was chosen. I was surprised Bruton surfaced after being in hiding for a week. He was taking all of the credit the day before the cup race.

    • Jimmy Pritt says:

      Bruton Smith is a idiot I believe i heard several years ago when he started suing nascar for a cup date kentucky officials said the infrastructure could not handle the traffic and guess what it didnt