Just 10 days after the Food City 500 at Bristol in March, Speedway Motorsports Inc. Chairman, Bruton Smith, issued a statement that he would be making modifications to the ‘World’s Fastest Half-Mile’ in short order.
Sagging attendance and a lackluster event seemed to be the motivation as he declared, “The race fans have spoken.”
So, plans were made and machinery hit the high-banks to remove the top groove – without consulting with the very men who’ll compete on it. We’ll see how that all pans out in August.
With great anticipation, we headed to Kentucky Speedway this past weekend to see how last years traffic debacle would be remedied.
Eight hours before their inaugural Sprint Cup Series event the traffic was bumper-to-bumper on I-75 and an estimated 20,000 people never even made it to the event. And while an apology was eventually made, it was still a horrible debut for NASCAR’s premier series.
This year the widening of roads, additional parking and cooperation with law enforcement were clearly improved for their sophomore outing. Kudos to everyone involved for recognizing the issues and resolving them.
Getting to the track was a breeze right up until the start of each race event — there was no traffic. There was ample parking, but the new lots were barely utilized.
Now, I’ll tell you this: The weather was horrible. 100-plus degree temperatures are a deterrent to any outdoor activity, let alone baking in hot plastic seats or metal benches. Personally, I wouldn’t sit in the hot sun if my mother were competing for the Gold Medal in the Olympics, so the weather probably attributed to the embarrassing turnout for the Camping World Truck Series race. The Nationwide Series race attendance wasn’t much better and the Sprint Cup Series finale was probably 45-percent off the full capacity of the track.
And while Kentucky Speedway did what they needed to do in order to fix last years issues, they missed the mark on several other problems.
The escalators from the infield to the grandstand were sporadically operational. But it’s only 160 steps to the top. The elevator from the grandstand level to the roof rarely worked. I’m not sure how many steps there were.
There were scissor-lifts often extended as the two scoreboards had multiple bulbs broken. They were never illuminated during the practice sessions or showed the starting line-ups prior to the green flags. That’s pretty good information for the fans to have.
Those issues are mechanical and I’m pretty certain that they can and will be easily resolved. My point is that another blemish is not what Kentucky Speedway needs.
Even with the weather factor, it’s obvious that last year’s tumultuous debut has had an effect on the attendance. Even with the changes, many fans are still upset about being turned away. And it’s apparent that the lack of humility by the track not taking immediate responsibility will have an effect for years to come. It will take years to rebuild the trust and credibility in a poor economy.
Just as they did in Bristol, the race fans have spoken.
Mike Calinoff is the Spotter for NASCAR Champions Matt Kenseth (NSCS), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (NNS) and driver Nelson Piquet Jr. (NCWTS). A 20-year veteran of the sport, Calinoff owns @140BUZZ, a social media and branding company. He can be reached at email@example.com and at Twitter.com/Mike Calinoff. The opinions reflected herein are solely those of Mike Calinoff and do not necessarily reflect those of SPEED.com, Roush Fenway Racing, Ford or relative race team sponsors.