There's More Work To Do At Kentucky Speedway
by John Close
Charlotte, NC (July 2nd, 2012) - You have to applaud Bruton Smith and his minions at Kentucky Speedway. They did everything possible to get fans to return to the 1.5-mile oval a second time after thousands attending the inaugural NASCAR Sprint Cup race there a year ago were knuckled by the mother of all traffic jams.
A new action plan - along with miles of fresh roads and acres of freshly groomed parking lots - greeted those who attended the events at Kentucky Speedway this past weekend. From all accounts, the plan and improvements worked as fans seamlessly flowed in and out of the facility for the three-day NASCAR race fest.
For some, however, the improvements came a year too late. The memories of sitting in stalled traffic for upwards of five to six hours were too much to overcome. While the attendance for Saturday's Cup race was announced as 105,000, large portions of open grandstand would lead one to believe that there were far fewer fans on site than the announced throng of 107,000 at last year's event - and not just 2,000 less either.
Regardless of whatever the real attendance number was at Kentucky Speedway Saturday, some folks didn't come back. You had to expect it, especially in today's fickle world where you basically get one chance to make an impression.
And while some fans surely stayed away because of last year's traffic fiasco, another mother of a problem - searing heat - had to keep Saturday's Cup race crowd down as well. With 'Mother Nature' roasting the middle section of the country with triple digit temperatures, the decision by some fans to stay in the comfort of their air-conditioned homes and watch the race on television had to be an easy one.
You can't fault Smith, or anyone else, for that.
What will be interesting now is to see what Smith does next at Kentucky. After a relatively droll, wreck/caution-free race at Bristol Motor Speedway earlier this year, Smith bulled his way into the spotlight vowing to plow up the track to give the fans a better, more action-packed experience.
After Saturday's totally forgettable Quaker State 400 yawner - a race that was punctuated by just four cautions totaling 24 of the 267 laps - perhaps Smith should also be talking about a complete repaving of Kentucky Speedway.
The Kentucky track surface (unchanged since the track opened in 2000) is completely worn out. With no grip and huge bumps on the straights and in the turns that literally 'porpoise' the vehicles around the track, Saturday's Kentucky Speedway Cup event morphed into a high-speed, no passing conga line.
It was - dare we say it - boring.
To their credit, Smith and his Speedway Motorsports, Inc. company did what they had to do outside Kentucky Speedway to get fans to come back. The challenge now should be to do whatever it takes to fix the track itself so the fans who attended Saturday's race have the kind of competitive experience necessary to keep them coming back.
After all, most fans still come for the racing. All the access roads and vast parking areas won't ever change that.