SPARTA, Ky. — That traffic isn’t a concern for this weekend’s NASCAR races tells Kentucky Speedway general manager Mark Simendinger how well his track and state authorities worked to improve things last year.
There was certainly room to grow after horrific gridlock marred the inaugural Sprint Cup Series race here two years ago. Race fans and driver Denny Hamlin complained of crawling for hours along Interstate 71, and thousands never made it into the 107,000-seat track.
Entry and exit was a breeze last June following $11 million in upgrades and a traffic plan advising commercial drivers to instead use Interstates 64 and 75 between Cincinnati and Louisville. Kentucky State Police said Monday the plan would be used again this year, and Simendinger is confident that journeys will be even smoother the third time around.
“There were some refinements to be made and we tweaked things a little bit,” Simendinger said Tuesday, “but we didn’t have a single car backed up for the race and you usually don’t see that for a NASCAR race.
“To make things even better than last year, I don’t know if we can do that.”
Perhaps, but neither the track nor state police are taking anything for granted with another large crown expected for Saturday night’s Quaker State 400 Cup race. It caps a tripleheader weekend that begins Thursday night with the UNOH 225 Camping World Truck Series race and continues with Friday night’s Feed The Children 300 Nationwide Series event.
More than 100 state troopers will again help manage traffic on I-71 and Kentucky 35 along with parking at the speedway. The only change is that those needing to reach ADA parking can use exits 55 and 57 off the interstate.
While KSP trooper and public affairs officer Brad Arterburn said the re-routing of tractor-trailers to other interstates freed up I-71, he also credited an informational network of local outlets, the Internet and social media such as Facebook and Twitter, which kept race fans informed of conditions every half hour.
Spectators were also urged to arrive earlier for the race instead of the peak period several hours beforehand, which Arterburn said resulted in a smooth traffic flow all day.
“Last year, traffic was perfect,” Arterburn said. “I don’t think it will be a problem. We believe it will work again this year.”
Arterburn also noted that police were helped by a widening of Kentucky 35 and exit 57 off the interstate and an additional 20,000 parking spaces. The latter move was one of several taken by Kentucky Speedway, which also built a pedestrian tunnel and began a shuttle between parking lots and the track.
The combination allowed the track to avoid a repeat of the first-year nightmare that’s been referred to as “Carmageddon,” a snarl that ensnared Hamlin to the point of fretting about missing the pre-race drivers’ meeting.
The incident still gnaws at Speedway Motorsports Inc. chairman Bruton Smith, whose company owns the speedway.
Smith said earlier this month in an interview with The Associated Press that the state could help even more by widening I-71 southbound from Cincinnati and provide “a whole interstate instead of half of one.” At the same time, he acknowledged his facility had to do its part as well to make things more fan friendly.
It remains a work in progress, but at least getting there isn’t half the battle anymore.
“We want to be a first-class facility and to do that, we have to deal with the problems we’ve got,” Smith said. “When people are spending good money on a ticket for a race, you want it to be a great experience for them. If we continue to do that, you’ll see great things happen here.”