Kentucky Speedway gets a mulligan
Everyone deserves a second chance. Americans are a forgiving people. In the case of Kentucky Speedway, there's a lot that needs forgiving.
The people in charge are saying all the right things now about the traffic mess Saturday night at the track's inaugural Cup race, including public apologies by Kentucky Speedway general manager Mark Simendinger and Speedway Motorsports Inc. president Marcus Smith.
And ticket holders who never made it inside the track can use those tickets at any of the six Cup events at SMI tracks the rest of this season, including New Hampshire this weekend.
That offer also includes the 2012 Kentucky Cup race. Good to know there will be a Kentucky Cup race in 2012.
Of course, it never should have come to this. It never should have happened -- fans waiting in total gridlock for six hours and thousands being turned away when they finally arrived.
Others in racing have expressed outrage at what happened, including Michigan International Speedway president Roger Curtis, who emailed a letter to fans and reporters on Monday.
"A sellout NASCAR race at Kentucky Speedway should have signaled the continuation of great things for race fans in the Midwest and for our sport," Curtis said. "What should have been a shining moment for NASCAR and all the racetracks, especially those in the Midwest, has sadly, potentially, put all of us back several steps -- maybe even years.
"Unfortunately, Saturday night's events became an exercise in blame and unpreparedness -- and race fans, corporate partners, media and drivers were caught in the middle. As a track promoter I am saddened and embarrassed about what happened this weekend."
It should be noted that Curtis works for International Speedway Corp., SMI's rival company. And Curtis' track (only 240 miles away) is in direct competition with Kentucky for customers.
Simendinger said he regrets what happened and they will work to make sure it never happens again.
No excuse is good enough. And think how bad this would have been if the race had started at 1 p.m. instead of 7:45 p.m.
How could track officials not know how many parking spaces were needed?
How could they not know how many port-a-cans they needed and how much equipment was required to service those cans in a timely manner?
How could they not know how much food and drink was required at concession stands? Many people tweeted and emailed me saying they couldn't get sodas and food midway through the race, and others had to go to several stands just to get a drink or a hot dog.
How could they not know the facility didn't have enough entrances to get cars into the speedway within a reasonable time frame?
How could NASCAR sanction a stop at a facility that clearly didn't have the infrastructure in place to handle a Cup event?
Other speedways have suffered through first-race problems for an inaugural Cup event, but nothing close to the failure on so many levels of the race at Kentucky.
Bruton Smith, the track owner and chairman of Speedway Motorsports Inc., blamed most of the traffic problems on Interstate 71, saying it was "the worst in the country."
As someone who drove that interstate all weekend, I didn't see how it was any different from almost any other interstate with two lanes in each direction. The problem came when people tried to get off the interstate and into the speedway.
The traffic debacle also overshadowed issues with the track and the race, which was uneventful except for a restart with two laps to go.
The track must be changed, starting first with a safety issue of not having enough SAFER barriers. The inside walls in Turns 1 and 2 are a major concern.
"I don't know whose dumb idea that was to put the wall out in Turns 1 and 2 six feet away from the racetrack, but that's not right," Kyle Busch said two days before the Cup race, which he won.
The track also is extremely rough and bumpy, which some drivers said gave it character, but it didn't give the place much side-by-side racing Saturday night.
That covers most of the bad news, so what's the good news? Everything mentioned above is fixable.
As a track promoter I am saddened and embarrassed about what happened this weekend.” -- Michigan International Speedway president Roger Curtis
The roads on the exits north and south of the speedway must be improved dramatically, as do the entrances and exits from the speedway itself. The question is: Who will pay for it?
The Kentucky legislature will hold a hearing in September to discuss what can be done. One problem: Kentucky, like many states these days, is broke.
However, last December, the Kentucky Tourism website ran a story saying the Kentucky Tourism Development Finance Authority approved incentives for the Kentucky Speedway, making it eligible for up to $20.5 million in performance-based rebates over a 10-year period.
The incentive allows the speedway to recover up to 25 percent of development costs through the recovery of sales tax generated at the racetrack.
Surely some of that money can be used to improve the ingress and egress at the facility.
Concessions problems, restroom problems and even the track issues all can be eliminated, or least greatly improved, by next year.
Clearly, the people in the area are enthusiastic about the event -- at least they were.
I would encourage all those 107,000 fans who bought a ticket to give speedway officials a second chance. Give them the benefit of the doubt to show they can make up for what happened and get it right.
Everyone deserves a second chance. It's just disappointing that they need one.
Terry Blount is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His book, "The Blount Report: NASCAR's Most Overrated and Underrated Drivers, Cars, Teams, and Tracks," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy. Blount can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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