Were tens of thousands of paying fans intentionally turned away while others forced to suffer in stagnant lines of cars as part of a plan to give a second date to another speedway?
The fallout and speculation after the disaster during Kentucky Speedway’s inaugural NASCAR Sprint Cup series debut is continuing.
On July 9th, an estimated 20,000 ticket holding fans were turned away from full parking lots and missed Kentucky Speedway’s inaugural NASCAR Sprint Cup series debut while most of the remaining estimated 150,000 fans were forced to sit in endless lines of traffic with many simply parking where they stopped and walking miles only to make it to the track well after the race started.
Speedway officials were slow to react in the aftermath of the disaster. Eventually they offered displaced fans an opportunity to exchange their unused tickets for a race at another Speedway Motorsports Incorporated track; or they could take a chance and attend another race at Kentucky Speedway.
None were offered a refund; instead SMI would use the displaced fans, most of whom would be forced to pay their own travel expenses again, to fill empty seats at one of SMI’s other tracks. It’s a ‘win’ situation for SMI’s bottom line and its image at other tracks where fewer empty seats would be visible. For the displaced fans however the ‘solution’ was less than ideal.
This past weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, another SMI owned track, NASCAR President Mike Helton said the Kentucky disaster was still being discussed in the inner circle of NASCAR officials.
“We take what happened last weekend very seriously,” Helton said. “Immediately conversations opened up between NASCAR, the track, Speedway Motorsports, from the highest of levels on the NASCAR side and the highest of levels on Speedway Motorsports side … everybody is engaged in this topic. The intent is to find out exactly what happened so that a cure or fix can be determined.”
SMI CEO Bruton Smith was also at New Hampshire and the 84 year old Smith, never known to hold back his thoughts, said that SMI would not reconsider the refund policy for the displaced Kentucky fans because,” We don’t want to.”
He also tried to shift the blame, as he did on July 9, away from track officials and point it at local government officials.
“We had two Super Bowl crowds there,” Smith said. “When you’re dealing with the crowds that we have, it takes everybody, it’s not just us as a corporation. You need the state, the county, the city, wherever. You’ve got to have that type of cooperation.”
“I had continuously warned people about that Interstate 71,’ he added. “I told everybody that would listen that Interstate 71 sucked. It’s terrible. It’s the lousiest piece of interstate that I’ve ever driven on.”
He even seemed to blame the fans themselves.
“I have learned over the years that as you hold an event, like (at Bristol Motor Speedway), the people, the fans that come there,” he said. “It doesn’t take a lot of direction for them because they know where they’re going. Now in Kentucky, the fans, they don’t really know where they’re going, they’re lost, they’ve never been there before. So that adds to the problem.”
One element of the entire Kentucky disaster has to be considered. The only reason Kentucky Speedway was given a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series date was due to a court ruling. During the time the date was being discussed, Smith made no secret of the fact that if were given an extra date he would want that date to give a second race to SMI owned Las Vegas Motor Speedway and eventually that date could come from Kentucky. Could the traffic disaster at Kentucky have been staged in order to help sway NASCAR officials from taking next year’s race from Kentucky and allowing Smith to move it to Las Vegas?
Even this past weekend in the aftermath of the Kentucky disaster Helton would not commit to saying that Kentucky would be on next year’s Sprint Cup schedule.
Smith said he would be meeting with Kentucky officials, including the governor, to discuss solutions to the traffic disaster; however as he has threatened to do on more than one occasion at other tracks, Smith said if he didn’t like the answers he was given, he would move the date for Kentucky westward: “Las Vegas, baby!”, he quipped.
The speculation now has to turn to a theory; what if Smith knew that there would be problems at Kentucky, or in fact the Speedway aided the traffic disaster in order to win favor for a move to a second Las Vegas race? Could Smith, knowing that he had to stage at least one event at Kentucky after it was awarded a date, somehow engineer the disaster that occurred?
The Kentucky State Police said the traffic seem to indicate that the traffic problem was due in large part to the track itself. Several reports said that more than a few of the gates leading into the track were locked forcing traffic into only a few entrances.
“The bottleneck really occurred at the track,” a Kentucky State Police spokesperson told local media. “The fact is if the Interstate was 20 lanes wide it would have not mattered because it’s all got to end somewhere.’’
Smith’s response was less of an explanation and more of a personal attack.
“Don’t know the gentleman,” he said.” I don’t recognize his expertise. I disagree completely.’’
With the knowledge that a large corporate track operator such as SMI has and the history and resources it could draw on it’s nearly unfathomable that the problems that occurred actually did.
Unless of course it was all by design in the first place, ‘Las Vegas baby’ indeed.
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