Governor pledges to work with Speedway to fix traffic problems
Gov. Steve Beshear said Sunday he will work with officials at Kentucky Speedway to address the traffic flow and parking problems that plagued Saturday's Quaker State 400.
A bottleneck traffic jam at Interstate 71's Exit 57 onto Ky. 35, the road that runs by the track, left thousands stuck in traffic for six hours in many cases and ultimately too late to see the race. Many ticket holders also said they were turned away when they eventually arrived after the race began because there was no more parking left at the track.
"There is no question that the entire week at the Kentucky Speedway was a big success, but it's also clear that there are issues, such as traffic flow, which must be addressed before next year's event," Beshear said in a statement. "We will work with track officials to determine what can be done to address these problems, so that next year's NASCAR event will be even bigger and better."
Beshear said it was too early to tell whether the state would get involved in a major expansion or renovation of the interstate near the track. That is the hope, though, of Bruton Smith, the chairman of the track's ownership group, who said during the race that the state would need to step up in fixing the interstate.
On Sunday, the speedway's general manager, Mark Simendinger, apologized to fans for the ordeal.
"Kentucky Speedway regrets the traffic conditions surrounding the Quaker State 400," Simendinger said in a statement. "We're committed to working with NASCAR, state and local officials, and traffic experts to assure that this never happens again.
"The details of these improvements will be announced over time as they are formulated."
Simendinger invited ticket holders to share their experiences by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
"We thank all our fans for giving the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series such a great welcome to our venue," he said.
In a statement, NASCAR officials said they were "thrilled by the incredible response" to the inaugural race at Sparta, but were also "extremely disappointed by the traffic problems and inconveniences endured by fans who wanted to be part of our races."
Officials said they "will be in close communications with Kentucky Speedway ... to see that they work to resolve the issues."
"This situation cannot happen again," the statement continued.
Fans, meanwhile, took to social media on Sunday and had created a Facebook page called "Refund the Kentucky Speedway Fans" by the afternoon.
Track officials said they are evaluating refunds "and will announce a policy for these affected fans within seven days," Simendinger said.
William Hardin of Lexington will be among those asking for refunds.
Hardin said he paid $220 for tickets for he and his 6-year-old son, Mason, who has a genetic movement disorder, to see the race. But Hardin said that after being stuck in traffic for six hours, they were told at three gates that there was no more parking available.
"By then, there were 50 laps left," he said. "I wish I could explain how I felt that he could not see the cars on the track, only the cars in the traffic for six hours ..." Hardin said. "It ripped my heart out."
Despite the problems, there were at least 100,000 fans on hand for the sold-out event, said Kentucky Speedway spokesman Tim Bray. Smith, the chairman of the track's ownership group, told the Kentucky Enquirer during the race that between 15,000 and 20,000 ticket holders may have been unable to see the race. Bray said Sunday that track officials did not have an exact number.
"We don't have any idea at this point," Bray said. "We're processing all this. We are making every effort to work through it. We understand the frustration of all those that are involved. Just rest assured we are working on a plan."
He confirmed traffic patterns are being studied with the goal of improving them by next year.
Republican State Senate President David Williams, who is challenging Beshear to be governor, said Sunday that he expects improvement.
"It is unfortunate that what should have been one of the most important milestones in Kentucky sports history was marred by horrific traffic," said Williams, who himself was unable to make it to the race because he was stuck in the traffic. Williams left Frankfort at 2 p.m. for a trip that usually takes 45 minutes.
"The taxpayers and the fans deserve to have these things run smoothly especially when their resources have been invested in it," said Scott Jennings, a spokesman for Williams' campaign. "The next governor and the next legislature are going to have to look at it to figure out what will do to prevent this sort of situation from happening two years in a row."