Ky Speedway, state investing $11 million to prevent 'Carmageddon' sequel


by Joe Arnold

Posted on August 30, 2011 at 10:40 AM

Updated Wednesday, Aug 31 at 2:00 AM

(WHAS11) - Seven weeks after "Carmageddon,"  Kentucky Speedway will spend close to $8 million and the state of Kentucky will spend $3.6 million to improve the traffic flow coming into the Sparta, Kentucky facility. 

"If you have people who do not do their job, do it properly, then you end up with a problem," said Bruton Smith, Speedway Motorsports Chairman and CEO, "And we're solving that problem now."

An estimated 20,000 NASCAR fans missed the Quaker State 400 on July 9 because they were stuck in the gridlock of Interstate 71.  Some fans abandoned their vehicles and tried to walk to the track.  Others gave up and went home.  It was seen as an embarrassing start to the first ever Sprint Cup race in Kentucky.

The delays prompted a call for legislative hearings and a task force led by the governor's chief of staff.

On Tuesday, the Speedway announced it had purchased property that will increase parking by 35 percent.  And the track is wasting no time in clearing the land so it will be ready for next year's race.

Within one hour Tuesday morning, a tobacco barn on the farmland being converted to a parking lot went from standing tall to being leveled and its debris cleared from the site.  Heavy machinery has begun to clear tobacco and corn crops from the 143 acres of farmland across State Highway 35 from the track's main entrance.  

The farmland cost Kentucky Speedway about $1.5 million. 

"We did a good job of driving the price up on ourselves I think," said Speedway General Manger Mark Simendinger, who said he began to call neighboring landowners immediately after the traffic debacle.

"Everybody knows what we needed to do," Simendinger said.

"We do not expect to have any massive traffic problem," Smith told WHAS11, "We think we're doing everything we can to resolve that."

"This is a partnership and we're going to make sure this works," said Governor Steve Beshear (D).

The state of Kentucky will spend 3.6 million to widen both the I-71 southbound exit ramp and the state highway that leads to the Speedway. The state will also construct a pedestrian tunnel from the new parking lot to the track.

Asked if the considerable investment of state resources is an acknowledgment that Kentucky is partly to blame for the traffic mess, Beshear instead pointed to the Speedway's parking capacity.

"Certainly, the major problem we had was not getting the vehicles to this point, it was getting them out of the way so we could get more vehicles off faster, off the roads," Beshear said.

"The state worked with the Speedway to cause the traffic to move," the governor continued, "And, we had some back-ups and so we're taking some steps, they're taking some steps.  And, together, we're going to be solving the problem."

After the race, Smith complained that the state hadn't given Interstate 71 the attention it needed, calling it "the lousiest piece of interstate I've driven on."  Smith had said I-71 "sucked" prior to race day.

"I was very, very concerned," Smith told WHAS11.

Asked if Kentucky is now doing enough to make up for the deficiencies, Smith suggested an additional change.

"In New Hampshire, they paved the shoulders (of the interstate)," Smith explained, "And we used the road up there as four lanes.  And the signage is 'use all four lanes.'  And I'm hoping that we get the shoulders paved here on 71. We'll use four lanes instead of the two."

The Speedway is also bringing in the same company that manages parking at the Daytona, Pocono and Watkins Glen speedways.

"I think you'll see that we'll be accommodating the fans better than we did this year," Smith said.

The state and Kentucky Speedway say the improvements will be complete by the 2012 Quaker State 400, on June 30.

"We believe improvements like these are necessary in order to ensure that our fans have the opportunity for an enjoyable race experience," said NASCAR President Mark Helton in a statement issued at the announcement.  Helton said NASCAR would monitor the progress of the upgrades.