NASCAR fans are celebrating news coming out of northern Kentucky. Sprint Cup Series racing is coming to the Commonwealth. The announcement came at a Tuesday news conference at the Kentucky Speedway in Gallatin County.
Billionaire Bruton Smith (pictured), announcing the date for next year’s Sprint Cup Race at the Kentucky Speedway in Sparta. Smith bought the one-and-a-half mile, tri-oval in 2008, from an investor group headed by northern Kentucky businessman Jerry Carroll. The investors spent $162 million to build the racetrack on 1000 acres of farmland beside Interstate 71.
The track draws large crowds, but NASCAR rebuffed entreaties from its original owners to let the venue host a Sprint Cup Race. In 2005, the former owners sued NASCAR, but lost. Enter Bruton Smith, chairman and CEO of Speedway Motorsports, Inc. which owns seven racetracks that host Sprint Cup races. After making $14 million in improvements to Kentucky Speedway, Smith has landed the pinnacle of stock car races in America.
And Smith says, even more improvements are on the way.
“So, when you come to Kentucky Speedway, we want you to come back again, and again and again,” said Smith. “We’re going to open 200 more acres of camping. Campers are our friends!”
Smith also plans to expand seating at the facility, which currently can handle 69,000 spectators. In all, he plans to spend around $100 million dollars on the venue. He’s getting help from a state economic incentives package approved last year in a special session of the legislature.
During debate on the bill, Rep. Keith Hall, D-Phelps, emerged as one of the track’s most enthusiastic supporters.
“And you take this message back to NASCAR,” Hall told his House colleagues. “Us old rednecks in the hills, we’ll come in groves. The Hillbilly Highway, we’ll hit it! And we’ll be there to watch that race if you can bring it to Kentucky.”
“I’m very interested in seeing the economic impact of having a Sprint Cup Race here at Kentucky Speedway,” said Beshear. “And track officials tell me that it could be upwards to $150 million a year. Now, that’s something for Kentucky or for any place!”
Also recognized for their efforts to bring the race to Kentucky were former Gov. Paul Patton and legislative leaders. Owensboro native Darrell Waltrip, a three-time Cup Series Champion, says drivers are excited about next year’s 400-mile race because many have already grown fond of the track.
“Guys really loved coming here and testing,” said Waltrip, “because this track emulated so many of the other tracks. It was a lot like some of the other tracks that went to, but it was a little bit unique – and so they learned a lot about their cars here, running here.”
The fans are excited, too. Tom Ehlman of Florence is a track regular and can’t wait for July 9th.
“It’s been a long time coming, but it should be a good show,” Ehlman told Kentucky Public Radio. “They’ve been working for a number of years, getting down here. I’ve been here since the first races back in 2000 and keep coming back, and waiting for this Cup event. We’re all just happy that they’re going to have the event.”
The Sprint Cup Series is the number one spectator sport in America, having more of the top twenty highest attended events in the country than any other sport. This is NASCAR’s first move into a new market since 2001.