Speedway Motorsports Inc. president Marcus Smith said fans can swap their unused Kentucky tickets for entry into events at any 2011 race at an SMI track. The tickets can also be swapped for entry into the 2012 race at Kentucky.
"We felt like this was a situation we wanted to roll out all the stops, and go above and beyond," Smith told The Associated Press. "All the plans we made and all the effort we put forth didn't produce the results we wanted, and we want to try our best to make it right with fans who are understandably frustrated."
Fans were stuck in traffic for hours as they tried to get into Saturday night's race at the track in Sparta, Ky. Many fans said once they did get to the gate, they were turned away by police because the track had no more parking spaces. The track announced a week before the race that it had sold out all of its 107,000 seats for a Cup race the region had been hoping to host for more at least a decade.
SMI spent millions on capital improvement and updating the infrastructure to the speedway, which was acquired in 2008. Smith said speedway officials in hindsight needed far more shuttles running from remote lots, malls and hotels to reduce the number of cars heading into the speedway.
"The traffic was anticipated. We knew it was going to be bad. We have been saying for a couple of years we need more roads," he said. "We did make plans, the plans clearly didn't work. We don't want to point fingers and make excuses, but in hindsight, there are a lot of things we have to do differently.
"There were tens of millions of dollars spent on parking lots and trying to make it better for the fans, and it's really frustrating that it wasn't enough."
The SMI ticket exchange offer also came with a firm apology from both Smith and general manager Mark Simendinger. It was the first apology offered in three statements from the speedway.
"To those fans that were not able to attend the Quaker State 400, we offer our sincerest apologies," Simendinger said in a statement. "We'd also like to apologize to all of our fans who endured challenging conditions during our event weekend. As we said earlier, we're committed to working with NASCAR, state and local officials and traffic experts to address Saturday's traffic issues to ensure that we never have this type of experience again."
Meantime, rival tracks are pouncing on the opportunity to take shots at Kentucky and SMI.
The president of Talladega Superspeedway on Sunday assured fans "his staff is well prepared to handle the influx of more than 100,000" at the track's October race, and Michigan International Speedway president Roger Curtis said the Kentucky problems hurt all track operators.
"As a track promoter, I am saddened and embarrassed about what happened this weekend ... that speedway, having been open for racing since 2000, should have known the challenges it would face when it tripled in size," Curtis wrote in a blog Monday.
"It appears the mentality at some other racetracks today is to see how much money they can make off a fan. Their line of thinking is to ban coolers, have fire sales on last-minute tickets, build, build, build without thinking, thinking, thinking, and blame others for their mistakes."
Indianapolis Motor Speedway, meanwhile, said fans who present a Kentucky ticket can receive free track admission on Friday, July 29, or $5 admission on Saturday, July 30. Kentucky ticketholders can also park for free in designated IMS lots.
"We have easy, efficient access to and from the track that allows our fans to participate in activities at the track and, in just a matter of minutes, enjoy all that the city of Indianapolis has to offer or be well on the road toward home or the hotel," said IMS president Jeff Belskus, who contrasted Kentucky's remote location.
Smith declined to comment directly on the comments from his rivals, but said SMI prides itself in top notch facilities with continued focus on capital improvements and creating outstanding fan experiences.
"It's heartbreaking when something like this happens, and you hope people give you some grace and the benefit of the doubt," Smith said.
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