sweat and gears
fans give the new
Kentucky Speedway the green flag
but new track passes test
SPARTA, Ky. After more than a year of anticipation,
auto racing fans from Kentucky, Ohio and Indiana in mid-June got their
first taste of big-time motor sports action at what could someday become
the new home for NASCARs elite Winston Cup series.
With an eventual Winston Cup race admittedly the ultimate
goal, Kentucky Speedway officials spent the June 16-17 weekend inaugurating
the new 1.5-mile tri-oval speedway with a NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series
event that drew an announced crowd of 63,750.
That number may have been much higher, but heavy rains the night before
prevented many fans from gaining entrance because the grassy parking
areas around the facility had turned too muddy and mushy for parking
cars. The resulting backup of traffic on I-71 forced track officials
and Kentucky State Police to agree to close the gates. Officials later
announced they would refund money for tickets purchased by anyone turned
When you get hit with three inches of rain in about a five-hour
period, it makes it really tough, said Ken-tucky Speed-way General
Manager Mark Cassis.
No one hated it any more than me, added track developer
Jerry Carroll. I wanted more than anything to get everyone in
here tonight. But it had become an unsafe situation.
We thought of everything except the rain, and we couldnt
do anything about that, said Winston Cup driver Darrell Waltrip,
an Owensboro, Ky., native who served as a consultant on building the
Saturdays festivities began with an afternoon concert by former
Eagles singer Joe Walsh. Then a cheetah from the Cincinnati Zoo was
briefly let loose in the infield in an attempt to set a new speed record
for a mammal.
Waltrip, Carroll, Cassis and Kentucky Gov. Paul Patton arrived in the
infield late Saturday afternoon via a black limousine pickup truck to
officially open the new $152 million speedway.
Gov. Patton, who admitted he had seen more horse than auto races, said
the new track would add to the states tourism industry and help
build our states image with a first-class facility.
He added that the unique track design, which allowed spectators to see
from any seat, is like being on the 50-yard-line of a football
game or the finish line of a horse track. He predicted that a
future Winston Cup race here would be as big as the Kentucky Derby.
The four men later joined Kroger Co. president Bob Hodge on an infield
stage to present welcoming remarks and to greet each of the 31 drivers
who had qualified for the 150-lap Kroger 225 NASCAR Craftsman
Truck Series race.
But the start of the race was delayed 24 minutes while track vehicles
worked to dry the surface following a brief shower. Finally, after 10
cautions and a 63-minute mid-race rain delay, Greg Biffle of Vancouver,
Wash., eventually won the race ahead of Jack Sprague of Spring Lake,
Mich., and St. Louis Mike Wallace. By the time the checkered flag
fell, it was nearly 11:30 p.m.
The pre-opening night festivities on Friday fared much better, weather-wise,
with the hard downpours holding off until just after the checkered flag
fell on the NASCAR Slim Jim All-Pro race, The Kentucky 150.
That event, however, had its own weird turn when pole winner Wayne Andersons
apparent victory before an announced crowd of 36,210 was overturned
the next morning when he was disqualified for an illegal manifold setting.
Second-place finisher Billy Bigley Jr. was declared the winner of the
event, which marked the largest crowd ever for a Slim Jim All-Pro race.
During a weekend news conference, Carroll called the new track a
labor of love in a way, trying to make everything work and build something
that is rather unique. He also admitted that building the facility
without a single race scheduled was a gamble. But drivers and fans,
alike, raved about the first-class appearance of the new track, and
drivers and pit crew members especially noted the friendliness of the
Its a nice facility, and Im really impressed with
the hospitality here, said Jason Binger, a pit crew member for
driver Steve Grissom from Asheboro, N.C.
Ive seen a lot of big NAS-CAR tracks, and this one ranks
right up there with any of them, said Tim Miles, 34, of Atlanta.
He works part-time as an instructor for the Richard Petty Driving Experience,
scheduled to hold amateur driving classes at the track in September.
Carroll said bringing a Winston Cup race to Sparta would require proving
to NASCAR officials that the fan base and a lucrative market exists
here, and that his facility would be prepared to handle it.
Through sheer performance by putting butts in seats we hope to
impress the powers that be that we can have a Busch race in 2001 and
continue on that mode in 2002 or 2003 to accomplish the feat of having
a Winston Cup race, he said. That has been our goal, and
that is what we are working for.
Waltrip said, Hopefully, well get a Busch race down the
road, and then sit back and wait like everybody else. We just want them
(NASCAR officials) to judge us on our performance. Thats all we
Following his Truck Series victory, Biffle said, My opinion is,
youre going to see Busch and Winston Cup races come to Kentucky,
with the fans and a facility like this.
Several NASCAR officials attended the weekend events to witness first-hand
Mandy Smallwood, a public relations official with Jack Spragues
GMAC-sponsored Truck Series team, said, It was very unusual to
see the big guys here from NASCAR, and that means they are taking this
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