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Gallatin couple strike gold
in shadow of Ky. Speedway

O’Connors plan to open
B.P. station in time for first race

Don Ward
Editor

(May 2001) Sparta, KY – When Neal O’Connor inherited from a relative a hilly farm on Hwy. 35 in Sparta, Ky., he never dreamed it would eventually lie across from the front door of a future auto race track.

Neal & Darlene O'Connor

But last year during the height of the Kentucky Speedway’s inaugural racing season, instead of grazing cattle, O’Connor and his wife, Darlene, found themselves parking cars on the land that lies between I-71 and the Speedway entry gates.
By the time the Metallica/Korn/Kid Rock concert took place in early July, the O’Connors had expanded their operation to include camping to help accommodate some of the 52,000 people who attended the mega-event.
“The Speedway wasn’t allowing people inside until a few hours before the concert, so they all wound up here. It was one big party,” recalled Darlene, 31.
Now nearly a year after the first green flag fell at the track, the O’Connors are expanding again. Only this time, they’ve gotten some serious backers to help them pull it off.
The couple is in the midst of a $1.5 million development on the hilly fields across from the Speedway that will eventually include a B.P. gas station and convenience store, plus another seven acres set aside for fast food restaurants and motels, sometime in the future.
The convenience store will feature 12 gas pumps, a hot delicatessen, an ATM machine and a country store. The couple wants to be open by early May and certainly in time for the first race weekend at the Kentucky Speedway.
“There’s a big ATV and motocross event May 5-6, and we definitely want to be open in time for that,” said Neal, 39, who farms and works full time as a customer service agent for Delta Air Lines at the Greater Cincinnati Airport in northern Kentucky.
Pace Oil of Louisville is building the convenience store. Excavation is being handled by LMS Contracting of Madison, Ind. Come race weekends, the O’Connors will continue to park cars and allow primitive camping on the property. They are considering adding electrical hookups next year, now that the land has been smoothed down.
O’Connor is counting on his family members to help run the convenience store. He has 10 siblings. His sister, Pam Locke, is going to manage the store. Others will pitch in on race weekends, he said.
“It’s going to be a family run business all the way,” O’Connor said.
The 400-acre family farm includes 150 acres that abuts the back of the Kentucky Speedway and 30 acres directly across the road where the convenience store is going in. O’Connor rents another 200 acres of farm land on which he tends to 50 head of cattle and raises 10 acres of tobacco.
As if that weren’t enough, the O’Connors also have three daughters — a 4-month-old, a 3-year-old and an 18-year-old.
Gallatin County lawyer Larry Lawrence owns most of the other land around the Speedway — 1,500 acres in all, some of which he has leased to a group that has been holding summer ATV and motocross racing events.
Lawrence’s land located behind the Speedway is part of a proposed airport. A study is under way to determine the feasibility of a small airport adjacent to the Speedway that would serve Gallatin, Owen and Carroll counties, plus private aircraft coming to the Speedway on race weekends.
That would only add, of course, to the demand for the O’Connors’ venture.
“I’ve got a lot of ideas brewing in my head about how this might all turn out,” O’Connor said, smiling.

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