Jerry Carroll waited 11 long years to land a NASCAR
Sprint Cup race at Sparta, Ky. But when the day finally arrived Aug. 10,
the Kentucky Speedway founder was nowhere to be seen. Instead of holding
court in the throng of reporters and photographers telling everyone I
told you so, he was inconspicuously standing backstage chatting
with a few media members who had sought him out.
They want me to appear on stage, but I really have nothing left
to say, said Carroll, 65, prior to the start of the largest press
conference ever held at the track, drawing several hundred media, politicians
and VIPs. Ive already said everything there is to say for
the past 11 years that this track deserves a Sprint Cup race.
a different time now; a different era (for the Kentucky Speedway)."
Jerry Carroll, track founder
Defiant to the end, the Aurora, Ind., native and former golf pro and
real estate developer spent the better part of the last decade trying
to convince the powers of NASCAR to award his 1.5-mile track a Sprint
Cup date. He tried everything, finally resorting to the courtroom in 2005
and suing the race organization in an anti-trust lawsuit, seeking to force
NASCAR to give the track a race.
But even that attempt failed.
Carroll finally had to sell the track to Speedway Motorsports Inc.s
Bruton Smith to get his wish of seeing NASCARs premier racing circuit
come to the Bluegrass State. The sale was announced in May 2008, and Carroll
was retained by SMI as a paid consultant. Even after the sale, NASCAR
refused to place a Sprint Cup race at Kentucky until the lawsuit was resolved.
Finally, in May, almost five years after it was filed, the lawsuit ended
when the former owners did not appeal the lower courts ruling against
Bruton has been very good to me, Carroll insisted as the media
settled into their seats for an hour-long press conference emceed by NASCAR
legend and Kentucky-born Darrell Waltrip, who lent his expertise to the
tracks design. The event featured speeches by Kentucky Gov. Steve
Beshear, several other politicians, Smith and NASCAR driver Joey Logano.
Its a different time now; a different era (for the Kentucky
Speedway), Carroll said, looking across the sea of TV cameras poised
atop a makeshift balcony ready to film the impending ordeal, complete
with shrimp cocktail and wine served by black-tie waiters.
Since opening the track to its first event in June 2000, Carroll says
he has remained optimistic for a Cup date, despite all the road blocks
and dead ends. Every day I thought this day would come. I just didnt
know when. I never thought we didnt have a shot. It just made sense,
he said. But without Bruton, we wouldnt have done it because
you have to be in NASCARs inner circle. And hes the only guy
in the world who could have made it happen.
Smith, who owns seven other race tracks that host NASCAR Sprint Cup events,
announced that Kentuckys race would be held July 9, 2011, and be
paired with a Nationwide Series race the night before. The latter circuit
has been racing at the Kentucky Speedway every June since 2001. In fact,
the track has set Nationwide Series attendance records for the event.
Kentucky also has played host to NASCAR Truck Series races every year
since it opened and will hold two Truck Series races in 2011. The first
is scheduled for Thursday, July 7, kicking off the weekend of the Sprint
Cup and Nationwide Series races. The second is scheduled for Oct. 1. Track
officials expect the IndyCar Series to soon announce it will hold its
race at Kentucky on Saturday night, Oct. 2. The IndyCar Series has not
yet announced its 2011 schedule, but it has held a race at Kentucky every
year since 2001.
Kentuckys 400-mile Sprint Cup race will make it the 23rd motorsports
facility on the 36-race series schedule and the first facility to be added
to the national tour since Chicagoland Speedway and Kansas Speedway staged
their first series races in 2001.
Carroll said he was pleased with the July race date because it is in midsummer
when families can come. He expects record crowds because of the tracks
strategic location near Cincinnati and Dayton in Ohio, and Louisville
and Lexington in Kentucky, all untapped NASCAR markets. We have
proved with the Nationwide Series that this is a rich market that will
pay off, he said.
Those who stuck by Carroll through the years praised him as a visionary
who saw the potential in what was then only a cow pasture in the hills
of rural Gallatin County.
I am happy for the entire Kentucky Speedway team, but I am especially
happy for Jerry Carroll because he never gave up on his dream, said
Mark Simendinger, general manager of Kentucky Speedway. He has had
a lot of setbacks along the way and he never quit.
Simendinger worked for Carroll Properties real estate firm and as an associate
in the mid-1980s when Carroll bought what was then Latonia Race Course
in nearby Florence, Ky., and renamed it Turfway Park. Carroll negotiated
to buy the dilapidated horse track for $13.5 million. After many upgrades
to the facility and successfully drawing several prestigious horses races
and out-of-state simulcasting to the track, Carroll divested his interest
in the track for $36.9 million just after breaking ground on the Kentucky
Waltrip, for his part, praised Carroll for building what he called the
a beautiful facility that is loved by fans and drivers alike. Theres
not a bad seat in the house. And the drivers love it here. Carroll
hired Waltrip early on as a consultant on the tracks design to make
it fan- and driver-friendly. Waltrip has remained steadfast as one of
the tracks strongest proponents for a Sprint Cup race.
Though Carroll was recognized during the press conference for having had
the vision, the occasion seemed bittersweet for him. That emotion was
evident in his words as more reporters gathered around him after the press
conference had ended.
Risks reap big rewards thats why people take them,
said Carroll, who should know. Youre always satisfied when
your dream happens. But you want to lead the charge, and I wasnt
able to do that.
The Kentucky Speedway was built in 1999 at a cost of $152 million and
was sold to SMI in a $78.3 million deal. So Carroll and his investment
team lost money on the sale of the track to SMI, but they were able to
see their dream of landing a NASCAR Sprint Cup in Kentucky come true,
even if it didnt occur on their own terms.
Asked if he would do it all over again, Carroll quickly replied, No.
It was too hard. Maybe we were naive to think NASCAR would simply award
us a race, but we never had a chance without Bruton Smith.
Don Ward is the editor, publisher and owner of RoundAbout.
Call him at (812) 273-2259 or email him at: Don@RoundAboutMadison.com.