Quaker State 400: Traffic fine, but the heat
This year, the fans loved everything but the weather.
Nearly a year after Speedway Motorsports Inc. owner/CEO Bruton Smith and the executives at Kentucky Speedway spent the inaugural Sprint Cup Saturday in Sparta answering questions about traffic, the only fan complaints at the Speedway and on social media sites dealt with the heat.
With temperatures sitting in the high 90s for most of the day – and the heat index climbing well into the triple-digits – many fans felt the effects.
Dana Curlis, a nurse with UK Healthcare, said her first aid station underneath grandstand five at the beginning of the front straightaway – one of two such stations for fans at the track – had seen approximately 40 cases of heat-related illness three hours before the race.
“Sometimes people underestimate the weather when it is this hot,” Curlis said. “And a lot of the people are not drinking the proper things to stay hydrated.”
Curlis said the number of illnesses was consistent with last year’s race, which was held on a similarly warm July weekend.
On the infield, where fans stood on pavement that reached up to 140-degrees, fans congregated around the shade of tents and garages, where industrial cooling stations circulated air.
“You get dizzy out there in a hurry and need to lay down,” said Dianne Greenwood of Princeton, Minn. “It is kind of scary.”
As the temperature rose throughout the afternoon, even the race teams were taking notice.
“(You) know it’s hot when they are using the water truck to hose people off here at the track,” driver Brian Vickers tweeted.
Beyond the heat, fans at the track and on social media sites responded positively to the efforts made by Speedway management and SMI to improve the fan experience.
With traffic moving swiftly thanks to an $11 million infrastructure improvement, fans were in the infield hours before the race, asking questions of drivers at scheduled events, taking in country music performances and snapping pictures with pit crew members.
“The amenities are certainly much better this year,” season ticket holder Mark Lester of Corbin, Ky., said. “After last year, you can tell they are making a big effort to take care of the fans.”
CEO Bruton Smith, who arrived at the track early and walked the grounds, thought the improvements were well received.
“I’ve been all over the place and talked to a lot of race fans, and the only thing I’ve heard from them is, ‘thank you, thank you, thank you,’” Smith said. “I’ve got more ‘THANK YOUs’ today than I’ve ever got in my life.” Cincinnati.com
SPARTA — A steady stream of traffic moved smoothly into the Kentucky Speedway all day Saturday for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Quaker State 400 – a sharp contrast to last year’s inaugural race, where mismanaged and inadequate parking resulted in hours-long traffic jams that caused more than 10,000 fans to miss the race entirely.
It took Jim and Connie Buschle of College Hill seven and a half hours last year to travel the 53 miles south from their home, and they slipped into their seats just in time to hear “Gentlemen, start your engines!” This year, the trip took just an hour, and the Buschles arrived in plenty of time to enjoy the pre-race festivities that make a NASCAR race a daylong spectacle.
“Last year, we arrived too late to enjoy this. This year we left early, anticipating traffic, and we didn’t have any,” Connie Buschle said. “We were amazed. It’s greatly improved from last year.”
The Kentucky Speedway and the state spent $11 million over the past year to make sure that happened.
Speedway General Manager Mark Simendinger attributed Saturday’s smooth operations to those improvements and to the successful execution of a traffic management plan that was a year in the making. “We are trying to build the very best speedway in America. That’s our goal,” he said. “When we come to work, that’s what we talk about: What does it take to be the best? So I really feel good. Taking care of this traffic thing will show people we’re serious about it, we’ve done what we need to do and now let’s focus on the racing.”
Attendance likely was a factor. Crowd estimates weren’t immediately available, but attendance was clearly lighter than last year’s sellout, which drew 107,000. The Speedway significantly expanded capacity, buying 143 nearby acres that allowed it to add 20,000 parking spots. It also graveled over unpaved lots and added parking stripes to maximize capacity.
Speedway and state officials, including state police, also developed a detailed race-day plan for parking and traffic. On Saturday, state troopers expertly and efficiently guided vehicles into parking lots at the Speedway, unlike last year’s congestion.
Infrastructure improvements by the state also greatly helped keep traffic flowing smoothly on Saturday. The state widened the exit ramp from southbound Interstate 71 and widened Ky. 35, the main artery leading to the Speedway. It also built a massive, 42-foot-wide pedestrian tunnel under Ky. 35, which improved safety for fans on foot and reduced delays on the roadway. Gov. Steve Beshear said the state’s $3.7 million investment was a sound one that will reap dividends as the race continues to grow.
“It’s a great relief, first of all, that things are working. I was confident that they would,” he said Saturday evening shortly after arriving at the Speedway. “The payoff is walking around here, seeing the smiles on everybody’s faces as they’re able to get in here easily.
“They’re able to walk around enjoying themselves like NASCAR fans do. That just means this race will continue to build every year from now on.”
Most of the people interviewed by The Enquirer on Saturday were returning race fans who attended last year’s event. It took Ted and Tami Lambert of Columbus just an hour on Saturday to make the 55-mile trip from their Georgetown, Ky., hotel compared to a nine-hour trek last year that caused them to miss most of the race. “It’s a big improvement this year – big,” said Tami Lambert.
Even race fans who arrived late in the day reported no problems with traffic or parking. It took Farris and Rebecca Marcum about an hour and a half to travel the 110 miles north from their Irvine, Ky., home compared with nine hours last year. They arrived around 6 p.m., two hours before the green flag dropped, after missing most of last year’s race. “We didn’t wait in any traffic. We were surprised with what happened last year,” Farris Marcum said. Cincinnati.com