Monday, June 19, 2000

Raceway's name is mud

Track owner promises to make it up to fans

By Kristina Goetz
The Cincinnati Enquirer

A pickup and camper mired in mid had to be towed out by tractor Sunday after rain ruined Kentucky Speedway's inaugural Saturday.
(Michael E. Keating photo)
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        SPARTA, Ky. — Race fans, track officials and hometown folks alike were trying hard Sunday to recover from checkered-flag fever.

        Tow truck operators fired up their engines to haul dozens of 4x4's, mobile homes and even another tow truck out of the muck in parking lots around Kentucky Speedway.

        Meanwhile, cleanup crews were out early to pick up beer cans and food wrappers after Greater Cincinnati's biggest auto racing party ever.

        Heavy rains and mud caused track officials to close some parking lots for the speedway's inaugural racing event — the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Kroger 225 — and some fans had to be turned away.

        Despite the problems, the speedway broke the Greater Cincinnati sports attendance record for a sin gle event — 60,284 for the Bengals-Browns football game at Riverfront Stadium in 1971. Saturday night's speedway event brought in 63,750.

        “We were an eyelash away from the biggest, most influential, star-studded sporting event to happen in this region,” said Jerry Carroll, co-owner of the speedway. “Without the weather, who knows, it could have been a magical evening.

It took Johnny Greenwell, Tony Philips, Tom McCarthy and Pam Greenwell at the wheel to get this pickup unstuck.
(Patrick Reddy photo)
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        “It would have been a complete feeling for me if we hadn't had the rain. Still, we had a wonderful, wonderful weekend.”

        While some fans were angry about being turned away, others said a little rain and confusion over parking didn't dampen their spirits.

        Jeremy Carter of Lexington spent the night in a tent with two friends. The three were slipping and sliding as they tried to close camp in the early morning. The mud was everywhere, a kind of goo with the look and consistency of warm peanut butter.

        None of the three seemed to care. It's a part of auto racing, Mr. Carter said.

        “We'll be back next race,” he said. “We've got a story to tell now.”

        A tow truck had to pull out the RV that Chuck Sutton and his friends from Louisville were staying in.

        “All in all I think they did a pretty good job,” he said. “I can't do anything about the weather and neither can they. The parking situation kind of got ugly out here.

        “They are going to have to do something to organize the parking, but beyond that everything they did was first class.”

        Mr. Carroll said he realized there were problems and plans to start working on three key issues first thing Monday morning: traffic flow, parking and refunds.

        “Nobody feels worse about it than I do,” he said. “But what can I do about 4 inches of rain? Can we be better prepared next time? Yeah, and we will be.”

        Mr. Carroll said said track officials will review the traffic plan and make some modifications, although what kind has not been decided. Mr. Carroll said a few more acres may be paved but it won't be 1,000.

        “We've got our job cut out for us,” he said. “(But) I will tell you that you will not see this kind of problem again.”

        By next year there will be a new interchange just past the exit for Ky. 35, which will help with traffic flow.

        Mr. Carroll said he knew the traffic was bad when his own daughter had trouble entering the facility. When a state trooper tried to turn her away she broke down in tears and showed the officer a photo of her dad.

        “"My dad's Jerry Carroll and I've got to get in here or he'll kill me,'” Mr. Carroll said she told him.

        More important, though, Mr. Carroll said he wants to make it up to those who didn't make it in to see the race. That goes for the people who had tickets and for those who sat in traffic with hopes of buying tickets when they reached the gate.

        “I'm the kind of guy that if 63,000 people came and one guy was unhappy I'd be worried about him,” he said, adding that he and other track officials are working out a deal for those fans.

        Mr. Carroll acknowledges he'll have to do some damage control but said he isn't worried about it. A gust of wind blew down power lines at Turfway Park when he ran the horse racing facility in 1998 and he had to reschedule the Jim Beam Stakes. But everything turned out all right then and it will now too, he said.

        “It's a situation I guarantee we'll make good,” he said.

        It's no secret track officials eventually hope to have a Winston Cup race at the speedway. Some speculated whether the spits and starts of this inaugural race might hurt the track's chances.

        Kevin Triplett, director of NASCAR operations, said the problems Kentucky Speedway officials experienced Saturday night are normal for a first race.

        “You can visit race tracks and know how many garages to build and how wide to make the doors.” he said. “But it's different until you do it.”

        Traffic jams, food shortages and parking problems aren't the litmus test for proving whether a track deserves to host a big race.

        “Those are growing pains,” he said. “They look at how they're prepared to handle situations like that. If plan A doesn't work, is there a plan B, a plan C?

        “And they came up with some strategies. They did some things and we tried to help.”

        Mr. Triplett said he wasn't surprised by the record crowd, but was encouraged by it.

        “We're satisfied,” he said. “It was a good race and we think the fans got their money's worth.”


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