It seems that the world of NASCAR racing uses the annual spring stop at Lowe’s Motor Speedway to host some of the biggest press releases of the year. The speedway’s press center is the backdrop for many press conferences by teams that are announcing a new sponsor or paint scheme for one of the upcoming races at the speedway. This year was no exception but the biggest news to be released from the track’s infield came from the man that just happens to own the speedway.
Bruton Smith is definitely no stranger to eye-popping news conferences and when he announced that his Speedway Motorsports Inc. had agreed to purchase Kentucky Speedway it certainly caught the sport by surprise. Bruton has always said that he is constantly looking for a speedway to buy, but the purchase of Kentucky doesn’t bring with it any of those precious Sprint Cup race dates.
Even without a Cup date, the purchase of Kentucky might have been just too much of a good deal for Smith to pass on. The track was built for $152 million in 2000 and Smith apparently has agreed to purchase it for $78.3 million. The ownership group of the track, headed by Jerry Carroll, will receive $15 million from Smith in monthly installments of $250,000 for 60 months plus Smith will assume $63.3 million of the Speedway’s debt.
Kentucky’s price tag pales considerably when compared to the $340 million that Smith paid last year for New Hampshire Speedway, but that track has two Sprint Cup events that are valued somewhere in the neighborhood of $100 million each. Kentucky now hosts both the Nationwide and the Craftsman Truck Series each season along with an Indy race, but efforts by Carroll to obtain a precious Cup series race has fallen on deaf ears.
If you know the background of Smith and the way he conducts the business of SMI, a press conference to announce the buying of a track would never be enough. Not only did he announce that SMI was purchasing the track, he also announced that he would be bringing a Cup date to Kentucky in 2009.
In order for that to happen several things would have to fall in place and fall into place very quickly. First, the track that now seats around 70,000 would have to have an increase in seating. Smith addressed that point by saying he would add 50,000 seats and that they could easily be completed in a couple of months.
Second and more important is the actual race date. Jerry Carroll has been fighting with NASCAR for years for a Cup date and that battle is now in the courts. NASCAR contends the area is already saturated with the tracks of Bristol, Indianapolis, Chicago and Talladega. The sanctioning body has also said that it does not plan on adding any more races to the schedule anytime soon.
Thanks to SMI’s seven tracks, which together host 12 Cup races, Smith does have some race dates he could move to the track. Of those tracks the most likely donor would be either New Hampshire or Atlanta. New Hampshire generally sells out both of its dates while Atlanta struggles each year to sell tickets for either of its races.
While either one of those two tracks could lose a date, you have to remember that Bruton also desperately wants a second race date for his Las Vegas track. When looking at the bottom line, a race date moved to Vegas would definitely generate more revenue for SMI than a race at Kentucky.
That leaves Smith with another option and that is the purchase of yet another track that already has Cup dates and that option seems to point to Pocono Raceway. Once purchased, the dates could be moved to any of SMI’s existing tracks.
For all of us race fans in Kentucky, we don’t really care where it comes from but we sure would like to see a Cup race in the Commonwealth. Like him or not, all of Kentucky now has a rooting interest in Bruton’s next move in the sport.
Race Preview – Event: Autism Speaks 400 presented by Best Buy. Track: Dover International Speedway (1-mile oval, 24 degrees of banking in the turns). Date: June 1, 2 p.m. TV: Fox. Radio: MRN. Defending champion: Martin Truex Jr.