Just after it had appeared that the animosity from the traffic debacle at Kentucky Speedway had somewhat subsided, Bruton Smith, who is Speedway Motorsports, opened up another can of hard feelings on Friday. He should have hidden from the media.
[media-credit id=24 align=”alignright” width=”229″][/media-credit]After saying he was sorry that he was sorry that fans had to endure the mess that was created when over 100,000 fans tried to enter the speedway, he let loose with some inflammatory comments that may have made things worse. He got some things right and some things terribly wrong, but those of us who admire Smith for his expertise in putting on good shows at his tracks and the general convenience of his properties, had to pause as he made his comments.
Bruton got some things right. Two two-car drafting at Daytona and Talladega is an abomination. This Restrictor Plate Two-Step is simply not racing. It puts a driver in an unnatural position of settling for second place—pushing the car—instead of racing. It should be fixed. Smith’s comments that he would fix Kentucky’s traffic problems before NASCAR fixed that particular problem at those two tracks were probably spot-on.
He’s also right about the highway system that goes into the track, but this is a problem at other SMI tracks like Bristol, Atlanta, Las Vegas, and others including the crown jewel, Charlotte Motor Speedway. Put that many people in one area and you will have problems. He has somewhat alleviated the problems at Bristol and Charlotte, two tracks I regularly attend. The secret there is to go early and stay late. It works. Oh yeah, and find a back road. The difference there is a very organized parking and camping situation—something Kentucky did not have.
What he missed on were his comments about building infrastructure. Sparta, Kentucky has a grand total of 235 residents (according to a 2007 estimate). It is only 42 miles from Cincinnati, OH in the north and about 60 miles from other population centers in the state, Louisville and Lexington. It’s not Charlotte where affluence is noted everywhere. While Smith was able to strong-arm officials in Charlotte, he may have a tough time with Kentucky officials. Building an extra 40,000 seats didn’t help any either.
He also stated emphatically that there would be no cash refunds because people couldn’t park, and were actually turned away from the track, because, “we don’t want to.” That’s a pretty arrogant statement. The ticket exchange is nice, but how many people can just pick up and go to Charlotte, Bristol, or Atlanta because they missed a race they paid for and sat in traffic for hours waiting to get into the facility.
More alarming were the stories of poor camping conditions (which are the lifeblood of most SMI tracks. These die-hard race fans are always there) and parking seem to indicate poor planning for the part of the speedway. Clearly as the head of the corporation, these maladies fall right on his shoulders—something he refuses to admit.
The final insult was the questions asked by Dustin Long, a reporter for Landmark Newspapers and Smith’s answers. When asked what he would discuss with the Kentucky governor next week about improvements to the infrastructure around the track, Smith responded, “Las Vegas, baby.” It was an apparent veiled threat to move the Kentucky date to his track in Nevada, giving that facility two dates. It’s something Smith has wanted for awhile and leaves the impression that the Kentucky debacle was a planned event for that end. Never mind the comments referring to the ISC track in Homestead, Florida, as being in “North Cuba.” Smith would like the season finale to be in Las Vegas instead of Homestead.
So, what will happen? Your guess is as good as mine. Kentucky officials might give in to Smith, but I doubt it. The track might be better managed next time, but it probably will get better, especially if folks just stay away, which I expect. I only know that Smith will eventually get his way. He always has been able to get things done, but this one will be a little tougher.
It wouldn’t surprise me to see another date at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in a couple of years. Then the good folks of Kentucky will know how fans in Rockingham and North Wilkesboro felt. That’s not good.