Friday, August 25, 2000

Speedway sets pace for attendance mark

By Terry Flynn
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        SPARTA, Ky. — Kentucky Speedway has been setting attendance records in its first season and has a chance to establish an Indy Racing League milestone this weekend at the Bluegrass State's first Indy car race.

[photo] The green flag drops at the inaugural race at the Kentucky Speedway in Sparta, Ky. The track has set records for each of its first four events. More may come this weekend, as the speedway prepares for an anticipated 100,000 people at Saturday's stock car race and Sunday's Indy race.
(Enquirer photo)
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        Speedway general manager Mark Cassis said Thursday that the Automobile Racing Club of America Blue Grass Quality Meats 200 stock car race Saturday is expected to attract 35,000 people, and 55,000 or more are expected for Sunday's Belterra Resort Indy 300 IRL race.

        “If the weather holds up, we could have close to 100,000 people here for two days,” he said. “Not counting the Indy 500, the IRL race on Sunday could set a record for a stand-alone event in that series.”

        Speedway president and co-owner Jerry Carroll said the facility has held four events — three races and a Metallica concert — “and we've set a record for every one.”

        This is despite an opening weekend rainstorm that produced a muddy traffic jam.

        “We established an all-time record crowd for a stand-alone (NASCAR Craftsman) truck race (63,750) June 17, and the largest-ever crowd to see a (NASCAR) Slim Jim race the night before (36,000),” he said. “We had 28,000 for the ARCA race July 2, which the ARCA people said was the largest they've had for a stand-alone event, and we had 52,000 for the Metallica concert, which was the largest-ever crowd for an outdoor concert in Kentucky” according to state tourism officials.

        Mr. Cassis said the speedway already has commitments for all 50 private suites for next season, even though the 2001 schedule has not been announced. The suites cost $105,000 a season.

        He said there are plans to add more suites for next season, and the demand for this weekend was so great that several temporary suites have been constructed on the main concourse for major sponsors and companies.

        The sponsor of Sunday's race, Belterra Resort, was scheduled to open this week near Vevay, Ind., but the casino boat sank in the Mississippi River following a collision and had to return to New Orleans for repairs.

        But Belterra vice president and general manager John Spina said the company plans to “take an unfortunate situation and turn it into something positive. We will receive a great deal of local and national exposure from the race being carried live on ESPN, and that will be very positive for us. We will emphasize our grand opening in the fall.”

        Mr. Cassis pointed out that the speedway suffered a similar problem with its June opening, thanks to the heavy thunderstorms that turned some of the track's parking lots into swamps and created a tremendous traffic jam on Interstate 71.

        “As we found out, things happen,” he said. “You have no control over something like that, so you step back, look at it and fix it. You can't walk away ... you just keep going.”

        Sheree Allgood of the Northern Kentucky Convention and Visitors Bureau said the bureau had not compiled any figures yet on the economic impact of the speedway, but she said area hotels and restaurants reported full houses every time the speedway held an event.

        Mr. Carroll said the speedway is ready for rain this weekend, although weather forecasts look good.

        “Even if it rains, with our new parking lots we can handle the parking,” he said. Because of the problems in June, the speedway added a layer of crushed rock to parking lots, as well as a series of asphalt and gravel finger roads accessing the lots.

        The cross-over lanes on I-71, used for the June truck race and the Metallica concert in July, will once again be set up by the state highway department to provide three lanes in each direction feeding into Ky. 35 and the speedway.

        “We also expect to see a lot more activity on U.S. 42 coming up from Warsaw because we sold a lot of tickets in the Indianapolis area for the IRL race,” Mr. Cassis said. “People coming from Indiana can cross the river at Warsaw and come up (Ky.) 35 to the Speedway.”

        His advice on travel remains the same for the Saturday and Sunday races, both of which start at 2:30 p.m.

        “Come early, especially on Sunday,” Mr. Cassis urged. “The gates open at 8 a.m. Sunday. People who live in the Greater Cincinnati area should be on the road no later than 9 a.m. With that many cars on the road, there are going to be traffic backups.”

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