By Don Ward
SPARTA, Ky. (July 2011) NASCAR fans throughout the area have waited 13 years for Sprint Cup Series to come to Kentucky. Now that it is finally becoming a reality, the excitement and anticipation is as great as the enormous task it took to get the facility ready to handle the crowd.
Photos courtesy of the Kentucky Speedway
Construction has been under way
for nearly a year to expand the
Kentucky Speedway, especially since
August 2010, when NASCAR and track
officials announced that the Sprint
Cup Series race had been awarded
to the Sparta, Ky., facility.
Speedway Motorsports Inc. of Charlotte, N.C., bought the Kentucky Speedway in December 2008. Since then, it has been busy expanding the seating capacity, camp sites and other amenities since it announced Aug. 10, 2009, that it had landed the Sprint Cup race. SMI owns seven other tracks that play host to NASCAR Sprint Cup races and has extensive experience in hosting NASCARs premiere event. Track seating in Sparta is being increased from 66,000 to 105,000 with the addition of two upper tier grandstands on the main straightaway. Most of the expansion was in camping.
The number of campsites increased from 1,000 to 4,500, including 588 sites in the infield, plus the addition of bath houses and restrooms. At the end of February, nearly all the campsites had been sold out and track officials were trying to create more space for campers without impacting the need for parking, said Communications Director Tim Bray. They eventually worked out a deal to direct campers to six privately owned campgrounds in the area.
Anyone interested in camping on site should call the office to inquire about what is available or go to our website and they are all listed there, Bray said.
SMI also renovated and expanded the Fan Center and Gift Shop and in early February moved all of its corporate offices there from Fort Mitchell, Ky.
Jesse Harris, a newly hired marketing assistant at the Kentucky Speedway, spoke to a crowded room of Carroll County Chamber of Commerce members Feb. 8 to explain through a Powerpoint presentation what to expect. He offered advice and related experiences that occur on race week in other NASCAR towns across the nation. He also fielded many questions about how Carroll County can prepare to handle the crowds and what the Speedway is doing to prepare for the triple-header weekend of NASCARs top three racing series on July 7-9. This includes the Camping World Truck Series race on July 7, the Nationwide Series race on July 8 and the prestigious Sprint Cup Series race on July 9.
Expanded fan seating by 39,000, from 66,000 to 105,000 including two 19,000-seat tower grandstands that feature chair-back seats.
Added a Hospitality Suite viewing tower along pit row in the infield.
Increased camping sites from 1,000 to 4,500
Moved pit row closer to the fans
Expanded display areas
Expanded the Gift Shop, and moved the corporate offices there in February from their former location in Fort Mitchell, Ky.
Other existing amenities:
35 Luxury Suites
Reseated the Bluegrass Club
Remodeled the Kentucky Club
Corporate VIP and Hospitality Tents
This will hands down be the biggest sporting event in Kentucky, doubling the crowd size of the Kentucky Derby. This is the first track in 11 years to be added to the NASCAR schedule. So I encourage you to think outside the box on all levels, Harris told the group.
Harris is a former race car driver and owner who has moved into marketing as a career for Speedway Motorsports Inc., the new owner of the Sparta, Ky. track. SMI owns seven other tracks that play host to NASCARs prestigious Sprint Cup Series.
Harris said that although these fans are coming to see racing, they also will want to do other activities during the week, such as shop, dine, golf, gamble at the casino and explore the areas other amenities.
Tickets for the season went on sale in mid-January, and Harris said hotels from Florence, Ky., to La Grange already are filling up, including many in Carrollton.
Although the races will take place July 7-9, Harris said NASCAR fans usually spend an entire week camping and partying at race events, so they should begin arriving in the area as early as July 5.
The Speedways camping areas are scheduled to open at noon on Tuesday, July 5 coming right on the heels of the Madison Regatta Unlimited hydroplane racing weekend on July 1-3.
We are doing everything we can to put on a great show, but we really dont know what to expect because this is our first time to host a Sprint Cup event, said Kentucky Speedway General Manager Mark Simendinger during a June 22 press conference.
But everything is coming together and we expect a sellout crowd for Saturday. We are seeing interest from a 300-plus mile radius, and tapping heavily into our three local markets Louisville, Cincinnati and Lexington.
Simendinger said the track has sold out its hospitality suites and luxury suites and has added a pit row suite in the infield that should provide for some excellent viewing of the race when the cars come off Turn 4.
He has served as general manager for several years and says putting on a great event means a lot to me personally. I want to fans to go away from this event wanting to come back next year and hopefully many years to come.