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Promoters Say The Fix Is In At Kentucky Speedway

Jeff Hood | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, June 28 2012

The grandstands were crowded but so, too, were the parking lots and roads at Kentucky last year. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Harold Hinson)

By Jeff Hood | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

SPARTA, Ky. – Kyle Busch’s name will forever be etched in the record books as the winner of the inaugural Sprint Cup race at Kentucky Speedway last July.

But for many of the 100,000-plus fans who made the trek to the 1.5-mile oval located between Cincinnati and Louisville, their lasting memory of the historic event likely doesn’t include the driver of the No. 18 Toyota doing his customary bow to the crowd.

A traffic jam of monstrous proportions began forming hours before the green flag waved and continued well after the command was given for the 43 drivers to fire their engines.

It resulted in many ticket holders reaching their seats well after the start of the 400 mile race. Others never made it to the race track property.

Kentucky Speedway General Manager Mark Simendinger was left to pick up the pieces, determine what went wrong and pledge to fix the problem.

“I wasn’t surprised that we had such a great turnout,” said Simendinger, a 25-year resident of the Bluegrass State. “What we were surprised about was that all the traffic planning we did broke down and didn’t work.

“We had a lot of people that worked on it ahead of time and, in all honest, it just didn’t work. That was a real disappointment because it took away from a weekend that was going to be unbelievable. But traffic

Will entering and exiting Kentucky Speedway be less of a chore this year? (RacinToday photo by Jeff Hood)

was totally messed up, and that’s our fault.”

While mad fans resorted to social networking to alert others about traffic snarls stretching more than 10 miles on Interstate 71 several hours prior to the start of the race, many drivers were already at work handling their weekly prerace chores.

“We’re stuck on the inside of the race track doing a lot of sponsor appearances and pre-race ceremonies before the event starts, but we did hear about the traffic congestion trying to get into Kentucky,” said Marcos Ambrose, who will be looking to win his third consecutive pole this season on Friday for Saturday night’s Quaker State 400.

In years past and with a smaller seating capacity, Kentucky Speedway had played host to sellout crowds for the Nationwide Series.

Folks attending those events were often greeted with long lines of traffic as they entered and exited the facility.

That track record led driver Brad Keselowski to prepare for the worst when the Cup Series rolled into Sparta for the first time last summer.

“I had no idea (traffic) was backed up like it was (last July), but I can’t say I was surprised,” Keselowski

Kyle Busch was one of the few who were happy after the debut Sprint Cup race at Kentucky last year. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

said. “I think we all saw that coming.”

The resulting black-eye left Speedway Motorsports Chairman and CEO Bruton Smith with no choice but to step up and make some drastic capital improvements at one of the crown jewels in his fleet of race tracks.

“If Bruton sees something is wrong, he doesn’t talk about what we’re going to do. He fixes it,” Simendinger said.

In August, the charismatic Smith purchased 143 acres of land across the street from the speedway. Five months later, he acquired an adjoining 30 acre tract.

“From an infrastructure standpoint, there was road widening and exit ramp widening,” Simendinger said. “There is now a large tunnel (underneath the highway that runs parallel with the speedway) that will promote pedestrian safety. It keeps everything moving.

“We built an overpass over tunnel road. It allows for tram traffic or pedestrian foot traffic to proceed to the seating area with no interruption.”

Fans will also be greeted with more busses, more bus routes that don’t interfere with vehicle or foot traffic and 100 acres of grass parking that is now layered with gravel.”

“We’ve also flattened out 50 acres that was too hilly,” Simendinger said. “We’ve got more restrooms, more access areas and are allowing fans to bring in coolers.

“All of those things added together should make for a dramatic improvement.”

– Jeff Hood can be reached at jhood@racintoday.com

Jeff Hood | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, June 28 2012
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