You’ll recall that the annual spring NASCAR race at Atlanta Motor Speedway became the new summer NASCAR race at Kentucky Speedway, which sits 40 miles from Cincinnati off I-71. About this piece of highway, Bruton Smith — who owns, conveniently enough, both AMS and the Kentucky Speedway – said on Speed TV:
“I’m trying my best to get the governor [Kentucky's Steve Beshear] to understand that Interstate 71 sucks. That is the worst interstate highway I’ve ever been on. I think it’s a disgrace to the great state of Kentucky to have something like that.”
As Terry Blount of ESPN noted, Bruton Smith spoke those words three hours before the Saturday night race. Imagine what he must be thinking now.
One of the Busch brothers won the inaugural Sprint Cup Event at the Kentucky Speedway, but nobody will remember which. Everyone involved was so appalled by the road conditions that varying voices have spent the hours since issuing varying statements of regret. Said NASCAR chairman Brian France: “This situation cannot happen again.”
So what exactly happened? Traffic.
I-71 was backed up for 15 miles. It was backed up so far that people holding tickets to the race arrived so late they found that the parking lots were closed (more about this in a moment) and that the roads supposed to offer access to the Speedway had, in the forlorn effort to smooth traffic flow, been reversed and were leading away from the track.
On Sunday night, general manager Mark Simendinger issued a statement on the track’s Web site saying, “Kentucky Speedway regrets the traffic conditions.” By Monday afternoon, that statement had been amended to this: “We offer our sincerest apologies.” (The track has also offered a ticket exchange for other NASCAR races, including — small world, huh? — the Sept. 4 event at AMS.)
But wait. As Kevin Kelly of the Cincinnati Enquirer reported, Michigan International Speedway president Roger Curtis took the unusual step of issuing an 18-paragraph e-mail blasting the Kentucky Speedway. The highlights:
As a track promoter I am saddened and embarrassed about what happened this weekend. To think all the hard work that we’ve done here at Michigan International Speedway and other tracks have done could be so quickly erased by Saturday’s events. That speedway, having been open for racing since 2000, should have known the challenges it would face when it tripled in size.
Just to be clear: This isn’t about kicking a race track when it’s down. We all make mistakes and MIS has certainly had past issues with traffic.
And it isn’t about trying to sway a Kentucky Speedway ticketholder to come to Michigan – though we will be happy to treat them the way they should be treated should they want to give us a chance.
Wow. And here we thought the only good feuds in NASCAR involved one of those Busch brothers.
As Jenna Fryer of the Associated Press reported, the issues could have been — and actually were — foreseen. She wrote:
Traffic was always going to be a problem. A July 1 press release from The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet that touted the traffic patterns set for Saturday night even noted near the bottom that “Kentucky Speedway is able to accommodate approximately 33,000 vehicles in its 10 parking lots.”
Track owner Bruton Smith’s addition of 40,000 seats had made it a 107,000-seat speedway, and all the seats sold a week before the race.
Clearly there was going to be a shortage, and everyone seemed to know it ahead of time. Even Smith, who spent millions on improving infrastructure since buying the speedway in 2008, acknowledged it Friday when he joked that track officials “expect to have everyone home by Tuesday.”
Wrote Brant James on SI.com: “[It] was one of the most inept debuts of a facility as a big-league venue in recent memory.”
We in Atlanta probably shouldn’t chuckle. We’ve sat on congested roads a time or two ourselves. But it is kind of funny that the thing for which AMS was known most — having the worst traffic anywhere on the NASCAR circuit — was beginning to ease just as one of its races got transplanted to Gallatin County, Ky. And you know what helped the race-day conditions down around Hampton, Ga.?
A redesigned State Highway 20 that cuts across to the track from I-75. It’s officially known as the Bruton Smith Parkway.
We’ll see if his new pals in the Bluegrass State’s government feel compelled to commission some paving projects for him. Speaking of whom:
Kentucky Senate president David Williams, who’s running against Beshear for governor, issued a statement on Monday: “I sympathize with those angry people who didn’t get in. I was one of them.”
A Williams aide said the lawmaker spent six hours in his car Saturday. Good luck with those legislative hearings, Bruton.
By Mark Bradley