BY TOM GROESCHEN
The Cincinnati Enquirer
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- A sizable number of Cincinnati-area fans were in the stands here Saturday at Louisville Motor Speedway, watching a NASCAR Craftsman Truck race that they hope will move closer to home.
Truck racing is part of Jerry Carroll's plan to bring major events to fledgling Kentucky Speedway, which is under construction about 35 miles southwest of Cincinnati in Gallatin County, Ky.
"I definitely think this race will move up to Jerry Carroll's track," said race fan Don Lykins, 46, who lives near Kings Island. "You'll be able to get more fans with more seats."
The Louisville track drew a sellout of about 12,000 for the Kroger 225 on Saturday afternoon. Carroll's track will seat 63,000 initially, with plans to expand to over 150,000.
Lykins and some buddies from work were attending their first NASCAR race.
"This is about as close as we can get to one," said Mike Carius, 49, of Colerain Township. "It'll be just a matter of time before short tracks like this one lose races, especially the Winston races, to bigger tracks."
Louisville is one of the shorter NASCAR tracks, at 7 - 16-mile long. Carroll's new track will be 1.5 miles around.
Another fan, Teresa Rush of Bellbrook, Ohio, has attended races at Dayton-area tracks but came to Louisville so she could get close to NASCAR. The closest venue to Cincinnati is the annually sold-out Brickyard 400 in Indianapolis.
"I'm just hoping this (truck) race moves closer to home," Rush, 27, said. "A shorter drive would be nice."
Carroll, also owner of Turfway Park horse track in Florence, bought Louisville Motor Speedway in January. His group will request a truck race for Kentucky Speedway, but NASCAR President Bill France Jr. has made no guarantees. Races are assigned on a yearly basis. Carroll and other Speedway officials attended Saturday's race. The series, a tour for American-manufactured pickup trucks, debuted in 1995. It is the third of NASCAR's three national series behind Winston Cup and Busch Grand National.
Carroll said his newest suggestion to NASCAR will involve moving the Louisville race to springtime, and requesting another truck race in the autumn for Kentucky Speedway.
"The sponsorship dollars are out there," Carroll said. "We're just trying to prove to NASCAR first that we can put on a good show, and I think we had a good show here today."
There are now 27 races on the NASCAR Craftsman circuit.
Truck racers sound ready for a move to a track larger than Louisville's 7 - 16-mile. The oval is so small that passing is extremely difficult.
Saturday's winner, Tony Raines of Laporte, Ind., endorses a move to bigger Kentucky Speedway.
"Definitely," he said. "You'd have a chance to get out and run. We run on some superspeedways, like I hear that one's going to be. Here, it's just a little bull ring . . . you're looking in your rearview mirror the whole time."
There were about a dozen wrecks in Saturday's nose-to-tail bumpfest, a byproduct of short-track racing. Fans like the collisions, but the drivers don't.
"Every time you get a good run, a caution flag comes up," said Stacy Compton, who ran fourth.
"You don't breathe much here," said Mike Bliss, who finished second. "Track position is everything at a place like this."