Up until this weekend NASCAR’s biggest debacle had been the Indy tire disaster of 2008. This weekend made that look tame. 15,000 – 20,000 people were turned away from the track that were holding valid tickets. Traffic was backed up for miles. The track was not ready for a cup date. The track knew it was not ready for a cup date in May of last year. But two words motivated the weekend. Two words that resounded loudly through every statement from the General Manager, Mark Simendinger and track owner, Bruton Smith’s mouths; those two words are arrogance and greed.
[media-credit name=”Brian Douglas” align=”alignright” width=”225″][/media-credit]Kentucky Speedway was not ready for a Cup date. They said so themselves in May of 2010 when in a press release they stated, “a 2011 cup date at the Kentucky Track, may not be feasible because of a variety of capital improvements needed to the track.”
Kentucky added 40,000 seats to accommodate the Cup race but they did not expand parking or bathroom facilities to match that. Lines for Port a Potties were 20 to 50 people deep and mostly located inside the facility not in parking areas. By the time the green flag flew parking lots were full and fans were walking as far as three miles to get to the track.
At the drop of the green flag traffic was still backed up for 20 miles. Traffic advisories posted by the Kentucky State Highway Patrol read, “Traffic backed up for 20 miles and at a stand still. Avoid area.” Rather than apologize for the situation, track owner Bruton Smith said, “I 71 sucks. Blame the state of Kentucky.”
About halfway through the race officials began turning people away from the track regardless of the fact that they had a paid ticket. Track owner Bruton Smith stated, “15 – 20,000 ticket holders were turned away when the traffic pattern was reversed to allow flow of traffic out of the track.” By that time they were being turned away anyway, because all the parking lots were over flowing and cars were double and triple parked. The track general manager stated in response to questions on the parking/traffic situation, “It was the number of cars that threw us, not the number of people.”
The General Manager of the track Mark Simendinger estimated the total number of fans in the stands to be 97,000 people by ticket scan. But the capacity of Kentucky Speedway is 107,000 people. The numbers given by both GM and Owner lead one to believe that the track was over sold by 5 – 10,000 seats.
The truly sad part is people in the area said, “We knew it would be bad. But this is way worse than we anticipated. This is a nightmare.” There appeared to be no rhyme or reason to the traffic patterning. There appeared to be no communication between Kentucky Speedway and other SMI tracks that handle Cup date traffic on a regular basis. It appeared for all practical purposes to be a power play by both the state of Kentucky and Bruton Smith who used the traffic fiasco to leverage his bid for highway and road improvements by failing to utilize 4 lanes of road leading into the track in favor of using only 2. Perhaps sadder still paying fans were used as the pieces in a game of mine are bigger and I’ll show you.
In temperatures and humidity that reached critical points, the speedway was unprepared to fill the hydration needs of it’s patrons with several sections running out of food, water and ice during the race. Interestingly enough, Kentucky is one of the few tracks remaining with a no coolers policy which leaves spectators at the mercy of the track in regards to prices and availability. Reports of four dollars for a bottle of water and nine dollars for a cheeseburger, two dollars for a cup of ice were reported by fans on Social Media sites like Twitter and Facebook. It should be noted that it is illegal in Kentucky to allow coolers according to Smith.
The track itself was in need of improvements and repair as well. Former series Champion, Tony Stewart stated on Friday, “They don’t have enough SAFER barriers yet. Not near enough SAFER barriers for what we’re doing here and how close the wall is to the race track. Hopefully, none of us will have to test that out and see anything.”
Four time champion Jeff Gordon echoed his sentiments saying, “I was just making a comment after last week’s announcement by Richmond(International Raceway). ‘I wonder why other tracks don’t have Safer Barriers.’ Then I came here and saw the inside wall. Hopefully that is the only time I notice it this weekend. You understand that they have put a lot of effort, you can tell they’ve put a lot of time and money and effort into getting this race track ready. Hopefully it’s not an issue. We’ll see. There is definitely some areas out there that could be addressed. Right now, the way that this track is, I see that the inside is not as much of an issue as maybe it is at some other tracks. But, we’ll have to get through a race and I’m hoping I’m not the crash-test dummy this weekend.”
The track itself showed deterioration with bumps all around the track. Dale Earnhardt Jr stated, “Well, the last time I tested here, the track was in a whole lot better shape. It’s kind of deteriorated a ton since we tested here last time. I think it was a couple years ago.” Bob Pockgrass of Scene Daily who participated in the pace car ride with former driver Brett Bodine at the wheel stated on twitter, “Pace car ride showed me that track has lots of small bumps. Not many big bumps but it’s the number of bumps that is issue.” When asked if the bumps were worse than those often talked about at Charlotte, he responded, “definitely more of them and no way to avoid them.”
Track owner Bruton Smith, made light of the drivers concerns, stating, “If they just follow Kyle Busch and drive where he drives they will be fine.” When he was asked about possible repave before next year, he stated, “That is all talk. We will look at it maybe after the 2013 race.”
The race itself didn’t rescue the venue from the arrogance of its owner; the long drawn out lack luster race was boring to say the least. Even TV commentator Kyle Petty concluded the broadcast with, “This wasn’t the most exciting race. But some guys really made something happen here.” Unfortunately for Petty it wasn’t the TV broadcast people. With poor camera work and too many specialty features the race was mainly silent. Many commented that after having watched the whole race they still were not sure what exactly had happened. Sadly, TNT went from the best broadcast of the season in Daytona to the worst broadcast in Kentucky.
The follow the leader racing on a two groove track was drawn out. The lack of cautions turned it into a mono tone recital of the same song that most, not all, of the1.5 mile cookie cutter tracks have fallen into. Track position was everything. Fuel mileage was a must. And aero and handling were premium. In short the drivers raced the track and the inherent disadvantages of the car of today rather than other teams and drivers. When it is viewed in light of the full day test on Thursday, the true impact of the poor race becomes clear. Changes are needed to the car if we are to ever return to the type of racing that made that NASCAR a household word.
The final observation of this disaster of a weekend is the obvious passing the buck of responsibility in regards to the Kentucky. NASCAR says it’s our job to bring the show. We brought the show we put on a race. The track says roads are not our responsibility our responsibility is to provide the track and the date. The state is responsible for the roads. The state says we gave you millions in tax abatement’s and you built seats without making accommodations for the people who would sit in them.
All three seem to be missing the point here. People who worked hard for the 170 dollars for a ticket to see the race were left out in the cold in some cases literally. The disappointment of children and adults across the board for this race is huge. Many are saying they will never go to Kentucky again.
This is the heart of racing country. With the current situation of ratings and empty seats, can NASCAR truly afford to have another half empty cookie cutter track on its schedule? Can the state of Kentucky afford the hit it will take in the department of tourism over the black eye for their highway system? Can Kentucky Speedway truly afford the loss of revenue and to start its life in Cup racing with the reputation of being the race weekend that never happened and the track that should never have had a date? In my opinion, the answer to all of the above is NO. But only time will tell how the fans will be compensated for this fiasco, will arrogance and greed take precedent over loyalty and devotion? Tune in next year to find out. Same traffic jam channel same traffic jam time.
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Congratulations to Kyle Busch on his Camping World Truck Series win and his Sprint Cup victory.
Congratulations to Brad Keselowski on his Nationwide Series win.
That said, to all the competitors in all the series thanks for giving us everything you have to give, you are our heroes. Most importantly, thanks to all the families who shared their loved ones with us so we could cheer our favorite driver and favorite teams. You are the true heroes of the sport and we are forever in your debt.
Many Thanks to Jim Utter and Bob Pockgrass for their contributions to this piece via Twitter, you guys are an inspiration.