Carroll hoping a new surface
will help lure Winston Cup
By Don Ward
SPARTA, Ky. (May 2002) Andy Vertrees stood at the apex of Turn 4 during an April 16 media day pointing out to reporters the angles that drivers take to optimize their speed as they approach the front stretch of the Kentucky Speedway. He explained how huge paving machines had recently ground down the surface of the track and then filled in the low spots and grooves with new asphalt.
Climbing back into a 10-passenger van, Vertrees then sped down the front stretch and took his visitors on a free-wheeling ride around Turn 1 and 2, then high up onto the backstretch to simulate what race drivers feel during the heat of competition.
As the tracks director of operations, Vertrees should know a thing or two about this place. He has been at the heart of this facilitys growth from a cow pasture into one of the nations state-of-the-art auto racing venues over the last four years. The Buckner, Ky., resident sold out his Louisville Motor Speedway to developer Jerry Carroll, then went to work for Carroll at his new auto racing complex in Sparta. Hes been there ever since, nurturing the development of this state-of-the-art facility as if it was his own.
But Vertrees is just one of the players in the Kentucky Speedways ongoing political campaigns to prove itself worthy of a NASCAR Winston Cup race. Mark Cassis, vice president and general manager, is the front man in the public relations effort and the chief spokesman in delivering to reporters the message that this track can handle a Cup date.
With fingers crossed and an ever-postive attitude, Cassis is the standard bearer in the crusade for track officials and Tri-State NASCAR fans, for that matter for what many believe is an inevitable date with Winston Cup destiny.
Cassis, track president Mark Semindinger and a cast of other behind-the-scenes officials are entering their third season in Sparta. And despite the rampant rumors for and against the possible outcome, there is still no sure sign of a Winston Cup race in the tracks future.
Or is there?
We can only keep trying to put on the best show possible and hope that things go our way, Cassis said.
Carroll, meanwhile, seems to take it all in stride, preferring to leave the microphone to Cassis and the tour guiding to Vertrees while he quietly prowls the back of the room and the infield area during press conferences and on race days. But don't be fooled. Carroll is still the dealmaker and host when NASCAR's top people come to town.
Carroll insists that if he stays the course, "good things will eventually happen." In an interview on April 16, Carroll denied the rumor that he either had or planned to sell a stake in his track to NASCAR in order to obtain a race date. Many of the circuit's coveted Winston Cup races are held at NASCAR-owned facilities.
Last year, Carroll often expressed his frustration to reporters over his inability to get on the Winston Cup schedule. Instead, he watched new tracks open in Chicago and Kansas City, both of which are owned or partially owned by NASCAR's International Speedway Corp. and already have Winston Cup events.
Carroll admits that the 2002 season is critical for us. He says the goal this year is to duplicate last years 70,000-plus, sellout crowd for the June 15 Busch race to show that the region can support a Winston Cup event. The track already has set an all-time attendance record for a NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race.
Meanwhile, this former golf pro from Lawrenceburg, Ind., has other projects besides courting NASCAR to keep him occupied.
An experienced real estate developer, Carroll made his millions by developing commercial properties in Nashville, Tenn., then brought Turfway Race Park in Florence, Ky., from deterioration back to national prominence. He later sold Turfway to pursue his dream of creating an auto racing facility in the hills of Gallatin County, Ky.
After two successful seasons, Carroll has been busy this past year pursuing his next dream of opening a casino in northern Kentucky that is, if the state Legislature will ever legalize gambling.
Carroll has lobbyists working on that little technicality, while he buys up hotels and other strategic properties in the Florence, Ky., area in preparation for his next venture.
Armed with money, ideas and optimism, Carroll's recipe for success have worked before, and are still working at the Kentucky Speedway, with or without a Winston Cup date.
Carroll says his philosophy has remained constant throughout the development of the Kentucky Speedway: Spare no cost in building the best race track possible. He and his co-investors spent $152 million top build the facility and countless more to make it go. And despite the odds, he remains optimistic for Winston Cup in 2003.
Were in constant communication with NASCAR but we have no control over this, he says without elaborating. The ball is in their hands.
As the third season approaches, Carroll and his staff are still waiting for the ball to drop at NASCAR and land in Sparta. With the new I-71 interchange scheduled for completion in time for the May races and the connector road scheduled for completion by early next year, the pieces are coming together as planned.
Speedway officials say that should they be awarded a Winston Cup date when the 2003 schedule is announced, usually in late August each year, they will immediately begin work to double the current 66,089 seating capacity by adding seats on the side of the track opposite the present grandstand. This would nearly encircle the track with seats and put Kentucky on the NASCAR map.
The Winston Cup dream is still alive at the Kentucky Speedway. Jerry Carroll is just hoping the adage rings true: If you build it, they will come.
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