The year was 2000 and the gates to the Kentucky Speedway officially opened. It was a perfectly placed venue tucked in the northern Kentucky hills. The 1.5 mile track was within a couple of hours from three major markets in Louisville, Cincinnati and Indianapolis.
If you build it, they will come right?
Well, Kentucky struggled to get a Cup date. It took 11 years before NASCAR’s premiere series first visited the Speedway. The announcement of the date for July 2011 was met with high praise and expectations.
Unfortunately, the track failed miserably that first year in getting people in. Traffic Gate kept fans in a parking lot on I-71 for hours and saw spectators trickling in hours after the green flag dropped. Some turned around and went back home.
That obviously hurt the attendance for 2012. But, the track and Kentucky’s government stepped in and improved this instantly. They poured in millions to the place to ensure that black eye never happened again.
And it didn’t.
They spent millions upon millions over the last decade upgrading the facility, adding seats, paving the track twice and greatly enhancing the facility overall.
They did everything NASCAR asked. It was one of the better run facilities on the schedule. The team down there was top notch.
Now, the 2021 schedule was unveiled on Wednesday and Kentucky was left out. No race in 2021 on any NASCAR level. That’s the first since 1999.
This time though, INDYCAR isn’t there either. No one is. This nice facility will sit idle from now until they can figure out what to do with it. That has Kentucky’s governor preturbed.
“Obviously it is a great disappointment,” said Andy Beshear. “That is an incredible event. I’m personally disappointed because I worked with NASCAR to become one of the first locations that they could race in after the suspension for COVID.
“I certainly hope that they reconsider that this is a 1-year or even less change. That speedway is an important economic driver.
“We’re going to do everything we can to encourage a return and also want to get more information on the whys.
“We certainly have been investing tens of millions of dollars if not more in infrastructure over the years to support that track & it would be pretty disappointing that we make all of those investments to support one of these races and then we not have it.”
Pretty strong words there and rightfully so too. This news comes out of left field. Kentucky was a track the Cup Series came to once. There’s plenty of other tracks to take a date from that host two.
Kansas for starters but they’re owned by NASCAR. Vegas is another and owned by SMI.
SMI essentially moved Kentucky to Atlanta. While I like Atlanta getting a second date, it shouldn’t have come at Kentucky’s expense.
But, you have to look at the bigger picture. Kansas has a casino on the property. Atlanta is building one. Vegas is in the shadows of the strip. Kentucky and Chicagoland lost dates and have none of the above.
Kentucky has spent millions and if they want back on the schedule, they’re going to have to dish out millions more for an entertainment value year round. But, can they make it back in terms of attendance to garner that investment?
Attendance has gotten better over the years for the Quaker State 400 weekend but the race was behind closed doors this year and no guarantee the figures would be good enough to merit a large scale casino type atmosphere outside the track even with room to build it.
That’s why Kentucky has some tough choices to make to get back on.