Photos: Kentucky in high-gear as NASCAR Nation comes to town


by Claudia Coffey

Posted on July 7, 2011 at 3:40 PM

Updated Monday, Jul 11 at 11:23 AM

SPARTA, Ky. (WHAS11) - In three days, the eyes of NASCAR Nation will be watching Kentucky, as the state gets ready to host its first Sprint Cup; the Quaker State 400.   It’s not just any race; this is a money maker for the state, at a time when good economic news is hard to come by.  This is a new yearly event that will dump millions into the economy, put people to work and load up our hotels and restaurants with guests from every corner of the country.

WHAS11’s Claudia Coffey went behind the scenes to take a look at the Kentucky Speedway.
With a bird’s-eye-view of the Kentucky speedway, time trials were going on Thursday and many of the headlining names in NASCAR were on the track, but getting the track and the surrounding areas ready didn’t happen overnight.  It took more than three years and $240 million.

A couple of weeks ago, Claudia was there to see how things were coming together; she was down on pit row and up in the stands to bring you a one of a kind view of how this all came together.

The city of Sparta, population 80, may only have one stoplight, but come July 9 the residents are going to put on a show.  Rick’s Tavern is having a dance, Carol at the Sparta Deli is baking extra hams and residents know this is the biggest thing to happen here since... well… ever!

The biggest names in racing, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch will hit the track at the Kentucky Speedway.   The speedway may look like it’s ready for its television close up, but this work has been years in the making.

“We took a good track and made it a great track and it’s going to be a palace when it’s done,” said Tim Bray, Communications Director Kentucky Speedway.  Bray took Claudia behind the scenes to show you what $270 million in improvements look like; the Kentucky Speedway before and after.

“This is the new pit row; it’s been moved two hundred feet closer to the fans.  If you think about it, we have added 40,000 new seats here because they want to see what’s going on at the pit stops,” said Bray.  Just behind pit row is a new fan zone where a couple thousand fans can get close to their idols.

“Fans love this stuff; NASCAR Nation wants to get up close and really personal with the drivers and the crews.  They want to see Kyle Busch, they want to see Junio, Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon,” said Bray.

A tunnel takes you under the track where you’ll find three escalators to the expanded seating area.  There are two new towers that rise above the rest, adding a total of 40,000 more seats.  “We have our seats that are not even the best, but for the most part you can see 85 to 95 percent of this race track and that’s not something you can do at every track,” said Bray.

More than a 125,000 fans will pack the grandstand, the infield and the campground on race day, making it the third largest city in Kentucky.  The new seats have a color grid and they have added chair backs; from there you can see the track, the pits, the garages and even victory lane. But whoever ends up standing in victory lane, trophy hoisted high, the real winner is Kentucky.

General Manager Mark Simendinger said the economic impact can’t be measured yet, but he says it will be huge.  ”To do something that’s filling hotel rooms and fillings restaurants and getting money in people’s pockets in the whole community so everybody can share, that’s a really good feeling,” said Simendinger.

It’s a feeling that’s felt all over the track as crews put every tiny detail into place.  From the lawns, to the parking lots, to the color of paint on the rails, there’s a feeling of pride that’s felt even five miles away in tiny Sparta

As for security on this day, state police and the county sheriff’s department are all helping out; they even have a heliport to bring big names and drivers in and out

Thursday nightt’s UNOH 225 Truck series race is on SPEED at 8 p.m.
Friday’s Feed the Children 300 is at 7:30 p.m. on ESPN.
Saturday’s Quaker State 400 is at 7:30 p.m. on TNT.

For more information about the race schedule you may click here.