[media-credit name=”Joe Dunn” align=”alignright” width=”225″][/media-credit]That was of course the date of the Inaugural Quaker State 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Kentucky Speedway, in Sparta, KY.
For sure the folks with the Kentucky Derby would take exception to that claim. Kentucky Speedway officials had claimed for weeks that the 107,000 seats had been sold out and they began selling Standing Room Only and Infield Standing Room tickets in addition. Asked about Derby claims of 150,000 in attendance, Smith claimed, “They don’t have the facilities or ability to get even 100,000 people into that Horsey event they have.”
One thing was clear as the weekend began, the folks involved in the traffic plans had failed miserably. Thursday’s NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, UNOH 250 went relatively smooth with it’s normal smaller attendance, estimated at 25,000. But Friday night, as the green flag dropped on the Feed the Children 300 NASCAR Nationwide Series race, the long lines of cars were still backed up for miles on Interstate 71.
With 50 laps remaining in the race, fans were still spilling into the grandstand.
For Saturday’s Quaker State 400, fans had been encouraged to start arriving 5 hours before the race start., which would have been 2:45pm. By 1:00 pm the backup on I-71 was reported to be about 10 miles. By 5:00 pm, it was said to be as much as 27 miles long, and that did not include the secondary roads leading to the track, estimated to be more than 30 miles away.
As the green flag dropped at 7:45 pm, it was obvious that at least 30,000 seats were still empty and the radio reports of traffic backups continued. The infield fan section was very sparse also as the race began. At 180 laps into the race, fans were reporting on twitter that they were being turned away by Kentucky State Police, who told them that there was no more parking available. Fans leaving with 75 laps remaining reported that they were at a standstill attempting to get to the Interstate. It was about that time that track General Manager Mark Simendinger issued the following statement.
“We’ve had an overwhelming response to our Inaugural NASCAR Sprint Cup Series ‘Quaker State 400’. We know we had challenges related to traffic. We’re already planning improvements and looking forward to a much better situation for next year’s event.” Can you say, ‘Too Little, Too Late’ Mark?
The traffic was not the only thing that made this a disappointing weekend for the fans and the folks that work these events. A general attitude among the press members in the press box was that the track failed miserably with the traffic situation, and that for whatever reason, the weekends racing was less than exciting. In addition to the problems for the fans, the media accommodations were sorely lacking. The Media facilities were adequate for the previous years when they hosted single events for the Camping World Truck and Nationwide Series, but for a Cup race they needed major improvements.
At the June 2010 NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Kentucky, Smith promised that a new media center would be constructed before the 2011 events, as well as a new garage area, similar to those at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. That promise failed to materialize and media personnel arrived to find about 75 seats for over 200 writers while Photographers found 50 seats for more than 175 credentialed workers. The track staff was helpless in addressing this problem as it was a physical facility problem and out of their hands.
The staff at the track should be commended for keeping their cool and always presenting a smiling and upbeat appearance. They were also constantly going out of their way to help folks as much as they were able to. But despite these efforts, there are sure to be thousands of fan complaints, especially from those who purchased tickets and were denied or prevented from reaching the track.
Although the track does have to accept partial; responsibility for the traffic woes, as a retired law enforcement officer with a background in planning and providing traffic direction and control for large spectator events, the true failure here is the responsibility of the Kentucky State Police who appeared to have not had a clue or a plan.
I have no doubts that the SMI folks will do everything within their power to resolve the problems before the 2012 race weekend, but they will still have to deal with thousands of disgruntled fans in the mean time.