Kentucky Speedway officials promise traffic fiasco won’t happen again

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Kentucky Speedway has had a makeover since its inaugural Sprint Cup race a year ago. The makeover doesn’t have anything to do with the racing surface. It’s designed to help fans get to the racetrack. Traffic jams of 20 miles or more forced thousands of fans to miss the historic event last year, and track officials now hope those fans give them a second chance. They promise they won’t make the same mistakes again, as they have added 173 acres of new parking lots, a new pedestrian tunnel, wider roads leading into the track and a new traffic and parking plan for the Quaker State 400 on Saturday night.

“We made a lot of promises (of improvements) and we’re going to prove we have fulfilled all those promises,” said track owner Bruton Smith, chairman of Speedway Motorsports Inc., which owns the 1.5-mile track. While making changes, the track used a computer simulation program that track officials say concluded that the new traffic plan will work.

Now, like a race team that uses simulation programs to determine chassis setups, track officials hope reality mimics simulation. Last year’s problems led to backups of 20 miles on Interstate 71 and reports of delays of more than five hours. An estimated 13,000-14,000 fans missed the race and were given free tickets to another SMI event last year or to this year’s Kentucky race. About 10,000 chose this year’s Kentucky race.

The problems were caused when the track increased its grandstand seating from 66,000 to 107,000 for the inaugural event, which was a sellout, but didn’t increase its parking capacity.

Since last year, the track has acquired 173 acres of land for additional parking, repurposed 47 acres and improved 106 acres of grass lots with gravel aisles. They changes are expected to accommodate at least 12,200 more cars and possibly as many as 18,700. Infrastructure projects completed by the state of Kentucky and the track widened the Interstate 71 exit ramp to Kentucky Highway 35 to three lanes, expanded Highway 35 to seven lanes and included the construction of a pedestrian tunnel from the parking lots.

The Kentucky State Police will execute most of the traffic plan. It will station a trooper in each parking lot and direct 300 attendants employed by a new parking service contracted by Kentucky Speedway. It also will establish a contraflow lane on northbound I-71 that will allow non-event traffic traveling southbound to bypass the track easier.

“Each car will be directed to a specific location in each parking lot. Our goal is to keep a constant vehicular movement in each open parking lot. Our team is committed to getting this right and we will,” KSP captain Dean Hayes said. This year’s race is not a sellout but a large crowd is expected.

“Typically the year after an inaugural year is down even if you don’t have logistical issues, so I would not be surprised that it was lesser attended than it was last year,” SMI chief financial officer Bill Brooks said on a conference call last month.

“But I think it is going to be respectable and I believe that somewhat less pressure will also help on the traffic situation.”

Via Bob Pockrass of the Sporting News


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