Sunday, February 20, 2000

AUTO RACING INSIDER


A Winston Cup race in Kentucky? Don't hold your breath

BY TOM GROESCHEN
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Miracle: Cincinnati Reds obtain Ken Griffey Jr. Miracle: Kentucky Speedway obtains a NASCAR Winston Cup race. For now, we'll have to settle for one miracle.

        Kentucky Speedway developer Jerry Carroll firmly believes he will land a Winston Cup race in the next few years, despite NASCAR CEO Mike Helton offering little hope. And despite another track, Texas Motor Speedway, complaining that NASCAR reneged on a promise to deliver a second Winston Cup date.

        If Texas, which already has one Winston race, cannot swing a second one, what about a Kentucky Speedway which has none?

DAYTONA 500
AP COVERAGE
        “NASCAR has never come flat out and said we're not getting a (Winston) race,” Carroll said. “We said it would be two or three years, probably three, before we could get one.”

        Carroll's 11/2-mile superspeedway is scheduled to open the weekend of June 16-17, featuring a NASCAR Craftsman Truck race. Carroll said construction remains on schedule at the facility just off I-71 in Sparta, Ky., about 35 miles southwest of Cincinnati.

        Helton, NASCAR's final authority on Winston scheduling, told The Cincinnati Enquirer that Kentucky Speedway is not on the short list of potential Winston Cup dates. Helton said that if the Winston series — the major league of stock car racing — does expand, it wants to look at untapped markets.

        “With Kentucky being in such close proximity to other Winston Cup events, the likelihood of us going there is not very good,” Helton told The Enquirer earlier this month.

        Helton mentioned Indianapolis, Bristol (Tenn.), and Michigan International Speedway, which all have Winston Cup dates and are within reasonable driving distance of Cincinnati. But Carroll points out that Indy Racing League CEO Tony George once said similar things in dismissing Kentucky as a candidate, only to award an IRL race less than 18 months later.

        “We understand what NASCAR is saying,” Carroll said. “We think the best thing we can do is put on a good show with what we have, then they'll look at us.”

        Carroll's people hope for a sellout crowd for their first weekend with the truck race, to prove to NASCAR they can pack the place.

        Mark Cassis, Kentucky Speedway vice president, said the track can survive without Winston Cup but obviously would not be as profitable.

        “To get where you want to be, with what has been invested, you've got to get Winston Cup eventually,” he said.

        As for the Texas flap, track developer Bruton Smith and general manager Eddie Gossage both say they were told by NASCAR vice president Brian France they would eventually get a second Winston Cup race. France has denied that, and Helton backs him up.

        “There's going to be a difference of opinion between our version and theirs,” Helton said. “We've never promised anybody a Winston Cup race.”

        Carroll also faces Winston Cup competition from new tracks in Chicago, Kansas City and New York. There are 36 scheduled Winston weekends in a 52-week year, with race teams already pleading for more offseason downtime.

        But with Kentucky Speedway to seat over 65,000 this season and 150,000 eventually, Carroll thinks NASCAR eventually will switch some races from smaller venues to newer, state-of-the-art locales such as Sparta.

        Racing sources also say Carroll won't rule out the France family's ISC-Penske conglomerate — which controls 10 major tracks — someday purchasing part of Kentucky Speedway, which would give Carroll another foot in the Winston Cup door.

        Carroll's own PR staff has dubbed the track “The $152 million gamble,” referring to the lack of a Winston Cup date. But it's also a highly calculated gamble, as Carroll has convinced some of the city's rich and powerful to sign on.

        Reds owner Carl Lindner is among those who have purchased one of Kentucky Speedway's 50 private suites, all of which are leased for the next three years. Lindner, who recently obtained Griffey Jr. for Cincinnati, is not known for blowing his money.

        Not even Lindner, though, can bring Winston Cup to town.

        We think.

        But stay tuned.

        Tom Groeschen welcomes your email at tgroeschen@enquirer.com

       



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