Sunday, June 17, 2001

NASCAR fans fill up the speedway

Improved access, parking enjoyed by record crowd

By Terry Flynn and Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        SPARTA, Ky. — Everything about Saturday night's Outback Steakhouse 300 at Kentucky Speedway was big.

        Take the big, sellout crowd — 70,338, the largest ever to see a sporting event in Greater Cincinnati.

[photo] Paige Blaine, 9, of Butler, Ind., holds her Kentucky Speedway flag in the air while waiting for an autograph from NASCAR driver Kerry Earnhardt.
(Jeff Swinger photo)
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        Or big parties, like the one a group of friends from Sharonville and Maineville threw before the race on a grassy field that served as a parking lot.

        Paul Bauer, 38, an environmental technician from Maineville, grilled steaks, burgers, hot dogs, crab claws and red and green peppers as Led Zeppelin blared from a boombox set atop a nearby SUV and beer chilled in two big coolers.

        “We love the racing, the cars and the speed,” Mr. Bauer said as he lifted a thick steak off a portable gas grill. “But the whole atmosphere is a big party.”

        Even the distances traveled were big, like the three hours that Benny Maynard, 36, Gary Ball, 23, and Tim Roberts, 42, drove from Huntington, W.Va., to the $150 million speedway in Gallatin County.

Complete coverage of the race
        “I've been to tracks all over the country,” said Mr. Roberts, a construction worker.

        “Bristol. Charlotte. Atlanta. Talladega. Indianapolis. But this is as good as it gets. This track is first class. You can see the race from any seat in the stands. You just don't have that at other tracks.”

        Mr. Maynard was eager to see the race, but was just as interested in watching people.

        “The women here are awesome,” said Mr. Maynard who was wearing a ballcap with a Viagra emblem.

        There was big cooperation from the weather, which has rained on some of the track's previous races and events.

        Friday night's qualifying had to be cut short and completed Saturday morning because of rain.

[photo] Traffic backs up on Kentucky 35 at Interstate 71 as race fans arrive at Kentucky Speedway on Saturday.
(Patrick Reddy photo)
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        Heavy downpours in the days and hours before the speedway's inaugural race last year — the Craftsman Truck Series 225 — made mudholes and swamps of the track's makeshift grass parking lots. The mess left thousands of fans stranded on Interstate 71 and unable to see that race.

        There were no such problems Saturday. Temperatures in the mid-80s and cloudless skies were as welcome by fans as the dropping of the green flag.

        “We were stuck in that mess last year,” said Glenn Growe, 37, a welder from Jeffersonville, Ind. “It was terrible. You could hardly get in and once you got in you were stuck in mud.”

        “This year is a lot better,” said his brother, Bill Growe, 36, a construction worker, also from Jeffersonville. “Not just because of the weather, but because there are more entrances. It looks like they've put in more gravel and paved lots. I'm glad to see they did it because we plan on coming back to as many races as we can.”

        Big events preceded the 8 p.m. race, including:

        • A concert from country star Brad Paisley.

        • A flyover from a B-1 bomber.

        • The dedication of a statue to honor former NASCAR driver Darrell Waltrip, a native of Owensboro, Ky., the winner of the 1989 Daytona 500 and a consultant to the speedway.

        The crowd cheered when Ohio Gov. Bob Taft read a letter from President Bush congratulating Mr. Waltrip on his storied career. Later, they stood as Mr. Waltrip took a couple of laps in the car he drove to victory at Daytona, a car sponsored by Procter & Gamble's Tide bleach.

        Thousands of fans watched the dedication ceremony, which included appearances by Kentucky Gov. Paul Patton, Mr. Taft and Bengals running back Corey Dillon, the race's honorary grand marshal. All three flew in on helicopters just before the ceremony.

        Sharonville resident Tim Barnes, 42, an automotive technician at Brentwood Auto Care in Finneytown, said holding several events over two days makes an auto race more of an event than a baseball or football game.

        “When you go to a baseball game you look at your ticket, see what time the game starts and then go get in your seat,” said Mr. Barnes, who brought his 18-year-old son, Chris, to the race.

        Speedway developer and chairman “Jerry Carroll does it right,” Tim Barnes said. “There's plenty to do and see.”

        Speedway President Mark Simendinger said staggering the day's events not only keeps fans entertained but it also helps with crowd control. For instance, after the Outback Steakhouse 300 was completed another race — the NASCAR Goody's Dash Series Kentucky 100 — was scheduled to begin at 11 p.m.

        Tim Gleason, 43, and his 23-year-old daughter, Reagan, left Price Hill for the speedway at about 3:30 p.m. Saturday. They were in the grandstands shortly before 5 p.m.

        “The traffic was no problem at all,” Mr. Gleason said. “There was no traffic on (Interstate) 71, and then it slowed a little once we got off the interstate and worked out way into the track.

        “I went to every race they had last year, and it was way easier today than any of the races last year. The improvements they've made here are working,” he said.

        However, as the 8 p.m. start of the race approached some fans told track officials it took about an hour to get from the interstate exit to their seats.

        Brothers Jeff and Terry Blank of Georgetown, Ohio, travel to a number of NASCAR races. Their only complaint with the Kentucky Speedway was the amount of parking area still covered with grass.

        “If Jerry Carroll gets the rest of this parking blacktopped, this will be the best track in the country,” Jeff Blank said.

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