Saturday, May 11, 2002

Speedway more vigilant

9-11 has effect on rural Ky.

By Jim Hannah,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        SPARTA, Ky. — Drivers, start your security checks.

        Vehicles entering the Kentucky Speedway on Friday were searched for bombs using mirrors angled at their undercarriages.

[photo] Security personnel J.J. Human (left) and Teresa West are reflected in a mirror set up so they can inspect the undersides of cars entering the Kentucky Speedway.
(Patrick Reddy photo)
| ZOOM |
        Race fans were encouraged to bring only clear plastic bags.

        Bomb-sniffing dogs patrolled the sprawling facility in rural Gallatin County.

        And fans traveling north from Louisville for the first day of racing in the speedway's third season got to use Exit 55 and Ky. 1039 — a new access, courtesy of the state Department of Transportation.

        A relatively small crowd of about 10,000 was greeted with the multimillion-dollar road improvements and added security Friday for the first day of the first race season after Sept. 11.

        Brantley Services of Louisville, which provides security at Churchill Downs, had 125 employees at the track Friday, and will double that number for the Busch Grand National Race June 15.

        “Security was very lax the first year,” said Matt Leitsinger, 42, of Liberty Township, who has been coming to the speedway since its opening two years ago.

    New security rules at the Kentucky Speedway:
    Banned items include coolers of any type and golf carts. Permitted items include binoculars, radios, scanners and single food or drink items. All bags will be searched, and Speedway officials recommend all fans carry clear plastic bags.
    New Interstate 71 speedway access exit information:
    • Southbound motorists with VIP, preferred, handicapped, suite, suite owners and hospitality pass holders along with all recreational vehicles should use the new Exit 55.
    • Southbound motorists without passes should use Exit 57.
    • All northbound motorists are instructed to use Exit 55.
    • Motorists can obtain traffic information as they near the speedway on the new Gallatin County Traffic Information System at 1620 AM.
    • Regional traffic management systems, including ARTIMIS in Northern Kentucky and TRIMARC in Louisville, also will inform travelers of detours and travel conditions throughout each of the speedway's four race weekends this spring and summer.
        “I had a golf cart and was able to ride it anywhere I wanted. That has all stopped.”

        Mr. Leitsinger and his family watched qualifying Friday from his motor home overlooking Turn Two of the track, where 75 percent of the wrecks occur, he said.

        The electrician pays $2,000 per year for the right to park his 31-foot motor home at that spot.

        Under post 9-11 security measures, adapted from precautions implemented at this year's Kentucky Derby, golf carts for fan use were banned.

        “Our role is to make sure everyone is safe after 9-11,” Brantley Services general manager Steve Hillard said.

        “When you have a large venue in today's world, you have to provide enhanced security,” Speedway general manager Mark Cassis said. “People understand and don't complain. They almost expect it to feel safe.”

        Kristine Weaver, 48, of Hyde Park, said she feels safer knowing the track is being cautious.

        The new $12.3 million interchange on I-71 is expected to relieve congestion to the track and prevent a repeat of massive traffic jams during the track's inaugural race two years ago, when all traffic had to use Exit 57.

        Bryan William, 28, of LaGrange, who got season tickets to the speedway for the year for his birthday, said “I hope Exit 55 moves the cars in and out quickly because I'm going to be making the trip up here several more times this year.”

        The need is not as great for smaller events, such as today's ARCA Re/Max stock car race, but is critical for managing premier events such as the Busch Grand National.

        Mr. Cassis said the goal is to cut in half the four or five hours it takes race fans to leave the track after major events.

        “The new interchange will help tremendously,” said Ronnie Webster, 52 of Demossville in Pendleton County.

        “That will mean there are two ways to the track. I don't foresee any problems, even for the Busch race in June.”

        Mr. Webster, who arrived at the track early Friday in his 32-foot motor home, has been to every race held at the speedway. He witnessed the traffic nightmare of two years ago when rain turned grass parking lots into a quagmire.

        The new interchange and a short portion of the U.S. 42 connector, Ky. 1039, is the first of two sections of the state highway project that will complete the north-south route from the interstate to Markland Dam.

        “Having two entrances into the track was our plan all along,” Mr. Cassis said.

        “Kentucky has been wonderful in trying to accommodate us in every way, including improving the roads,” Mr. Cassis said.

        “That is why we located here. It just takes time to build new interchanges.”

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