Casino opens at Kansas Speedway

Kansas Casino, the latest France Family shrine

Check out this website of the new Hollywood Casino that opened at Kansas Speedway Friday. The visionaries who breathed life into Kansas Speedway more than a decade ago dreamed that the racetrack would give rise to a surrounding megaplex of retail chains and restaurants as well as sports and entertainment options.

Only, no one expected the transformation to happen so quickly.

“We had a vision for the area to build a racetrack, which we thought would attract other businesses as we moved along," said Lesa France Kennedy, CEO of International Speedway Corp., which owns Kansas Speedway, and a member of NASCAR’s board of directors. “Over time, I could see it reaching this point, but in such a short period of time, that was very surprising to me."

The latest evidence of Kansas Speedway’s success enjoyed its grand unveiling Friday as the Hollywood Casino, which overlooks turn two of the racing oval, opened to the public, leaving little doubt that the track’s best days lie ahead.

“It (Kansas Speedway) absolutely remains one of the crown jewels of the NASCAR circuit," Kennedy said. “It’s obviously one of the most modern since it opened in 2001 and is one of the more recent ones to open."

And Kansas Speedway has no intention of standing pat lest other venues around the nation catch up.

“We always talk about Kansas Speedway being a unique destination, but we are truly unique now with a destination casino and we’ll have a hotel in the not-too-distant future," Kansas Speedway president Pat Warren said. “As an entertainment venue, I would argue there is nothing in the country like what we have right here."

NASCAR and its drivers have taken notice.

Clint Bowyer, an Emporia, Kan., native who cut his teeth as a driver running on dirt tracks in the region, remembers when the land Kansas Speedway and Village West sit on was nothing but pasture.

“It’s unbelievable how much difference this racetrack has made in this county," Bowyer said. “The next step, and raising the bar once again, is this casino. It’s really brought Las Vegas to turn two of this racetrack. This is a high-end, ultra casino and an incredible venue to come to. Can you imagine what the atmosphere is going to be like here on race weekend? The wow factor will be pretty big."

Several major infrastructure changes in recent years, including the expansion of grandstand seating coupled with wider seats as well as the addition of lighting to allow night racing, already helped prompt NASCAR to schedule a second Sprint Cup race at Kansas Speedway last year.

The track also landed two races for 2012. The first will be April 22, after which Kansas Speedway will be repaved and reconfigured with a road course added on the infield before the October race, which is part of the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

“We were very happy with the second race here," Kennedy said. “That’s something we look at on an annual basis, but it was well-supported. Fans in the Midwest are really good. They are really special sports fans, and especially motorsports fans. For now, we’ll continue just the way we’ve been doing it." Read more here