This time last year as we approached the opening of the 2011 season, all of us here in Kentucky were excited about the Sprint Cup schedule finally having a date for the Commonwealth. Kentucky Speedway had been putting on Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series races for several seasons but finally it was time for the track to step it up and host a Sprint Cup race.
That race known as the Quaker State 400 showed what we here in Kentucky knew all along, that the track would be a perfect fit for the Cup Series as the racing was some of the best of the season. Kyle Busch won the inaugural race, but it was what took place outside of the track on that day that will probably be remembered longer.
When Speedway Motorsports Inc. purchased Kentucky Speedway, it was no secret that its chairman Bruton Smith had the means to bring a Cup date to the track and that before that would ever take place there would have to be some changes made to the facility. Smith proved when he bought Bristol Motor Speedway that he would move mountains if necessarily to improve one of his tracks, so any changes to the already modern Kentucky Speedway would not be that difficult of a job for him.
The track had always attracted large crowds for its Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series events so the first change that had to be made was the addition of extra seats for the expected larger ticket demand for a Cup race. The seating capacity went from 66,000 to 107,000 in time for the first-ever Cup race that was made even a little more special with the green flag not waving until the sun began to set.
While the added seating permitted more people to purchase a ticket to see the race, as it turned out it didn’t necessarily mean that there would be a place for them to park once they got to the track. What took place that day on I-71 that goes by the track in Sparta was a traffic jam that was reported to be 20 miles long.
It wasn’t a case of everybody showing up late, it was a combination of things that led to thousands of people with tickets having to turn around and go back home without getting to see the track, let alone see the race. The exit off I-71 wasn’t big enough to get everyone off the highway, but the problem was that it didn’t take long for the parking lots to fill up around the track leaving no place for drivers to go once they got off the interstate.
To some extent track officials and the Kentucky State Police knew that there was going to be problems with traffic and parking, but not to the extent that took place. SMI and Kentucky officials began immediately after that weekend to begin working on a solution to the problem before the series ever came back to the track.
Both have done their homework and the solutions that both have been working on should go a long way of preventing what took place last summer. The track has purchased 173 additional acres of land as well as repurposing 47 acres for additional parking. Another 106 acres of grass lots have been upgraded to bring at least an additional 12,000 parking spots and possibly as many as 18,700.
The state has done work on the track’s exit off the interstate by adding an additional lane that should keep the traffic moving toward the track. Once at the parking lots, more workers directing traffic will greet fans.
The new spaces have been added to both sides of the road in front of the track that should also be a plus in keeping traffic moving without having to stop one lane to let another cross. The track has even added a pedestrian tunnel and a new bridge over the road to make sure that the traffic in front of the track does not have to stop.
The one other thing that you can do is start planning now on your race day “strategy” that should include arriving at the track several hours before the green flag. Bring a tailgate and go souvenir shopping, it will always beat sitting in traffic!