SPARTA, KY. (AP) - It would be fair to call the inaugural Sprint Cup Series race at Kentucky Speedway a debacle.
That description makes general manager Mark Simendinger wince.
But he doesn’t deny there’s little room to soften just how bad things were on July 9.
“The fact is, we blew it,” Simendinger said Friday.
After waiting 10 years to land a coveted Sprint Cup race, the entire region eagerly anticipated what was supposed to be a spectacular Saturday night debut at a facility new track owner Bruton Smith spent millions on to make it a worthy host to one of NASCAR’s premier events.
But as the 107,000-plus fans approached speedway property, officials quickly realized there wasn’t enough parking and the access roads couldn’t adequately handle the crush. The result was a traffic jam that stretched for miles and lasted so long, many fans never even made it to the speedway.
Speedway Motorsports Inc., the company that owns the track, went to work in the days after the race to fix the issues and Kentucky Speedway gets its first chance to redeem itself since this weekend. NASCAR’s Trucks Series races Saturday night at the speedway, and the IndyCar Series runs Sunday.
The crowds will be a fraction of what descended on the speedway in July, and temperatures expected to hover in the 50s all weekend will likely discourage much of a walk-up crowd. But Simendinger and his Kentucky staff are determined to prove at every chance possible that there will never be a repeat of what happened 2 1/2 months ago.
“We had a bunch of disaffected and disappointed customers, and that’s a major, major problem,” Simendinger said. “There are a lot of ways to fix that, but the reality is the only remedy that would satisfy many people is if I could go back and get them out of traffic. I can’t do that, so the job now is to convince people to come back and to trust us that we can handle the kind of crowds this place is built for.
“I want everyone to come back and see that we are making it better.”
Two days after the traffic jam, SMI offered a ticket exchange to anyone who missed the Cup race. The unused Kentucky tickets could be used for entry into any events at SMI tracks this season, or swapped for entry into the 2012 race at Kentucky.
That was just the beginning, though, as the real work began in earnest behind the scenes. Smith and his SMI group had to negotiate with state and local officials for road improvements, while Simendinger had to find remedies in and around the speedway.
Within six weeks, an estimated $11 million in improvements were announced.
SMI began by acquiring a 143-acre parcel of land surrounding the speedway that will be converted into parking for more than 10,000 cars. The company also pledged to convert all grass-covered lots to gravel, and painting guidelines to maximize the spaces. Simendinger said the speedway has replaced the parking company it used with a new contractor that has experience at NASCAR tracks Daytona, Pocono and Watkins Glen.
The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet promised its own $3.6 million worth of enhancements to avoid another disastrous situation.View Entire Story
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