I had the pleasure of making the trip to Kentucky Speedway last weekend, and yes I did make it into the race. I’ve been wanting to see some of the fans’, fellow sports writers’, and track officials’ responses to the chaos that ensued this past weekend at Kentucky before I jumped to any conclusions about my experience in the Bluegrass State.
[media-credit name=”Matt LaFlair” align=”alignright” width=”235″][/media-credit]I made the trip with my dad and a few fellow NASCAR fans all the way from Buffalo, NY to be in attendance for this historic event. We left Buffalo Wednesday afternoon, making a pit stop in Cleveland for the New York Yankees/Cleveland Indians game in hopes of seeing Derek Jeter inch closer to the 3,000 hit mark. After the game, we drove further on in our journey, catching some drinks with some quite hospitable folks in the home of Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, Mansfield, Ohio, and caught a quick nap before continuing on towards Sparta.
On Thursday, we met up with some friends in the Cincinnati area who graciously allowed us to stay in their Winnebago with them at the track. Upon arrival, we discovered that the ‘Edge of The Speedway’ campground, was nowhere near the edge of the speedway. Dragging our feet too long in booking a site, we found that the speedway camping was ‘sold out’ months in advance – Mistake #1 on our part, and mistake #1 on the speedway’s part. The Edge of The Speedway campground would put us about a 3.5 mile walk away from the front gates of Kentucky Speedway, a bit of a hike when lugging 30 to 40 pounds of camera and computer equipment.
I did not make it into Kentucky in time to cover the NCWTS race on Thursday, but that experience in the stands helps me to write this column from both the journalist and the fans’ point of view.
My jaw dropped as I walked through the gates and stood below the Indiana Tower right at the start/finish line. The track was truly a sight to see the first time I laid eyes on the 1.5 mile circuit. The grandstands were almost overwhelming as to how well they were set up for fans to watch the on-track action. Built with a ‘buffer-zone’ between the outside wall and the start of the grandstands, row number one is built approximately 8-10 feet above the top of the outside walls. This gives fans almost a bird’s-eye view of the action below.
I can’t complain much about the fan experience inside the gates of Kentucky Speedway (except that I did hear that concessions were about out of food 2 hours BEFORE the green flag Saturday night). This is the first track that I have been to where fans are not allowed to carry their own beverages into the stands, a big disappointment to many.
It was outside the fan gates on speedway property that needed some help…After trudging 2.5 miles to get remotely close to the track, we spotted a shuttle stop on Speedway Boulevard, Thursday before the truck race that looked fairly promising in getting us to the front gates.
We waited about an hour while bus after bus came by, packed to the brim with race fans. Now this shuttle stop was FURTHEST from the track, and yet it came past us at full capacity. After about an hour of this, we decided to cut our losses and hoof it the last mile (uphill by the way) to the front gates.
So my first word of advice for Kentucky Speedway, figure out a shuttle route that benefits the fans. The shuttles should not be picking people up a quarter mile from the front gates and riding them the entire route. Shuttles should travel to their furthest stop and travel towards the track, picking up fans at designated stops, not the other way around.
The Media Hospitality
Last weekend, Kentucky Speedway did everything they could with the resources they had to accommodate the influx of press to cover the NASCAR weekend.
Upon arrival on the infield of the track, I found that the Media Center was not the largest one I had ever been in, but not the smallest either. I had heard through the grapevine that the track had issued somewhere around 200 working media credentials for only 40-some seats in the Media Center. Luckily, SpeedwayMedia.com was granted a seat in the deadline room so I had a place to set up shop for the weekend. I did have a bit of an issue finding food to eat around lunch-time in the Media Center as they had run out around 12:30PM – but, I used my experiences as a college wrestler to help me through my grumbling empty stomach.
My only other issue while covering the races at Kentucky Speedway came during the Pre-Race Ceremonies of the inaugural Quaker State 400. It seemed like all of the fans that were supposed to be in the stands, somehow got down onto the track and pit-lane during pre-race, and their mission was to make a photographer’s life a living hell. I don’t know if I could put an exact number to the people allowed down on the track during pre-race, but if I had to guesstimate, it would have to be somewhere around 20,000 – or at least it seemed like it.
There were children running all over as the drivers made their way to the intro stage, pushing though mass crowds of people to obtain an autograph or a picture. The crowd plowed their way out onto the track and the Ford Mustangs designated to carry the drivers around the track for their pre-race introduction, had merely the width of their cars to navigate through the massive crowd of race fans. If you check out my photos for the weekend, you will even see one fan going for an autograph while Kevin Harvick is already seated in his Mustang.
I did hear a fellow photographer mumble to me during the mayhem that was the pre-race ceremonies “They have lost all control out here”. I could do nothing but shake my head in disbelief and carry on my duties.
Other tracks that I have covered have been locked up tighter than Fort Knox when it became time for the pre-race ceremonies, and your first-born was required to gain admittance to the area around the pre-race stage. This was by far not the case on Saturday Night. Word of advice #2 to Kentucky Speedway – get control over the pre-race ceremonies, there’s no reason to have that many people out there.
Well, there’s not much to say about the cup race…it was boring. Kyle Busch dominated the entire night, and with only a one or two lap window after a caution for passing, there was little chance the #18 would surrender the lead. At one point, I believe I heard that Kyle had the lead by almost eight seconds over the second place car.
As for the trucks and Nationwide series races, they were a little more exciting. Watching Kyle Busch come from dead last in BOTH races, was truly a sight. He diced up both fields like they were tied to a fence-post. Even though he did not win the Nationwide race, it was still a sight to see him come from the back, at a track that did not foster much passing throughout the course of the weekend.
That’s that for the race…nothing exciting to say the least.
By now everyone has heard the stories about the traffic at the track. My story with the traffic is: it was all gone by Sunday morning.
By camping at the track, I avoided the mayhem on I-71 and it was smooth sailing all the way back to Buffalo on Sunday. I do have a heart and feel bad for all the folks that did not make it into the speedway on Saturday Night. In these times, it’s tough to have hundreds of dollars shelled out in tickets to a race that you can’t even make in time.
It needs to be addressed, there were hardly enough signs directing folks where to park, parking attendants were less than helpful at best, and there was no order to the traffic in and around the track. Bruton Smith knows how to put on events, I think he just fell short on the details, traffic being one of them.
I find it hard to call this past weekend a success after reading the countless stories of folks trapped on the interstate, walking in the sweltering heat, and hearing stories of never going back.
I do commend SMI for their efforts in trying to make what was done, a little more acceptable to the fans. Offering tickets at any other SMI race this season is the least they can do for the fans that were trapped with nowhere to go Saturday Night.
I am skeptical in the sense that all those in attendance Saturday Night at Kentucky Speedway will return to the track next season (if Kentucky is on the Sprint Cup schedule next season). I would like to think that changes will be made to how to handle the crowds, getting them in and out, and how to handle them inside the fences of Kentucky Speedway. I had fun, and was extremely pleased that I was in attendance for the inaugural Sprint Cup race at Kentucky Speedway…
Stay tuned tomorrow for Matty’s Picks where I brag about picking the Inaugural Quaker State 400 race winner!