Fans from the Commonwealth will agree that NASCAR finally got it right when it announced in August that the 2011 Sprint Cup Series schedule would include for the first time a stop in Kentucky. The speedway, owned by Speedway Motorsports Inc., will become the 23rd track to host Sprint Cup events on the schedule, and the first to be added to the schedule since 2001 when both Kansas Speedway and Chicagoland Speedway held their inaugural events.
Of course, the Kentucky Speedway that hosted NASCAR events in both the Camping World Truck Series and Nationwide Series this season will take on a different look when the Sprint Cup Series makes its first-ever stop on July 9. Bruton Smith, chairman and CEO of SMI, is noted for his deep checkbook and his willingness to spend whatever it takes to make his racetracks state of the art for both fans and competitors.
Smith wasted little time once it was announced that Sprint Cup racing was coming to the track in 2011. He immediately announced plans for track upgrades that would eventually cost somewhere between $90 million and $100 million. Construction on new seating began almost immediately, as the track will see its seating capacity expanded from 66,000 to around 116,000. That is just a beginning, because when you bring in more fans you have to have ways in place to take care of them. Additional restrooms and elevators along with 200 more acres of camping will make the track’s first Sprint Cup weekend more accommodating for the expected sellout crowd.
While all of these improvements are being made, the one thing that SMI doesn’t have to worry about is the track itself. The mile and a half tri-oval has long been a favorite of both fans and drivers as the track has always promoted plenty of side-by-side racing regardless of the series. The track was also one of the favorites for testing by Sprint Cup teams before the sanctioning body banned all testing at tracks that hosted any NASCARsanctioned event.
Making the transition to a track that can now host Sprint Cup events has been made easier in recent days, with the Kentucky Tourism Development Finance Authority approving incentives for the speedway. By getting the approval, the track will now be eligible for as much as $20.5 million in performance-based rebates that will allow SMI to recover 25 percent of its investment.
That may sound like a lot of money for the state to give up especially during these hard economic times, but it is really nothing more than an investment in the state’s future. It has been estimated that Kentucky Speedway’s Sprint Cup weekend will have a $150 million economic impact on the state each year.
The track’s ideal location is what allows for such estimates as the track has 6.9 million people living within a 100-mile radius and 51 million living within 300 miles. It’s this heavily populated area that has speedway officials excited about the prospect of selling out their entire season tickets packages.
If there is a drawback in purchasing season tickets at the track it is that the package also includes tickets for the Indy Car Series and Indy Firestone Light Series, but that is just one date as the package includes four days of NASCAR racing. Besides tickets to the Sprint Cup race in July, you will also receive tickets for both the Camping World Truck and Nationwide Series that same weekend. The trucks return on Oct.1, followed by the open wheel racing the following night.
If you need another reason to buy a ticket for the first race, then how about the chance to pull for a Kentuckian on race day?
Two-time Daytona 500 winner and Owensboro native Michael Waltrip announced that he would be attempting to qualify one of his own cars in the July race at Kentucky. Waltrip owns two full-time Sprint Cup teams with drivers Martin Truex Jr. and David Reutimann, so it could be that Kentuckians will have three teams to pull for that have a connection to the state.