Local News Politics

Officials Announce Kentucky Speedway Traffic, Parking Improvements

By Stu Johnson, Kentucky Public Radio

The Kentucky Speedway and state government have announced a plan to alleviate traffic congestion at the track on major race days.

This summer’s inaugural NASCAR Sprint Cup race was marred by a traffic jam and parking shortage that left thousands of motorists stranded for hours. Now, the track’s owner has purchased 143 acres for additional parking and hired professional parking and engineering services. Tim Bray with Kentucky Speedway says it’s a big step and should reduce race day stress.

“This goes a long way to making it better. I don’t know exactly how many parking spaces we’re gonna have available on the new parcel of land, but it’s gonna be significant,” he said.

Track officials estimate the improvements will expand event day parking by about 35 percent. The state will also improve highways around the northern Kentucky track. Among them is a three lane ramp southbound off I-71, widening a portion of state highway 35 and the construction of a pedestrian tunnel. Those improvements are expected to cost $3.6 million

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Sprint Cup Series In Kentucky

NASCAR’s top series is in Kentucky for the weekend.  Starting tonight, the Kentucky Motor Speedway will host the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

This weekend’s race ends a decade long struggle to get a major NASCAR race into the eleven-year-old track in Sparta, Kentucky.

The one-and-a-half-mile track is hosting three national series races this weekend starting with the Nationwide series for trucks today  and tomorrow  and ending with the Quaker State 400 on Saturday night.

Local News Politics

State Approves Speedway Incentives, Looks At Ark Encounter

State incentives to help bring a NASCAR Sprint Cup race to Kentucky have been approved in Frankfort. And another proposed attraction in northern Kentucky is seeking similar tax breaks.

On July 9th, the Kentucky Speedway in Sparta will host a 400-mile NASCAR Sprint Cup race. But to land the race, the track needed to expand seating capacity to 65,000.

To help fund the expansion, the track applied for state sales tax rebates, which have now been approved.

Based on an investment of $85 million, the track will receive more than $20 million in performance-based rebates over a 10-year period.

The developers of the proposed Ark Encounter theme park in Grant County are seeking similar tax incentives. Their request has received preliminary approval from the state.

An independent consultant will now perform an analysis to see if the $172 million theme park meets the requirements of the statute.

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Kentucky Speedway Lands Sprint Cup Race

After spending nearly $14 million on improvements to the Kentucky Speedway, billionaire Bruton Smith has convinced NASCAR to move a major stock car race to the track.

The facility will host a 400-mile Sprint Cup Race on July 9, 2011. Gov. Steve Beshear was among dignitaries invited to the track for the big announcement.

“I’m very interested in seeing the economic impact of having a Sprint Cup Race here at Kentucky Speedway. 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,” he said.

The Sparta, Kentucky, track will become the 23rd motorsports facility on the 36-race Sprint Cup Series schedule. It’s the first race added to the national tour since 2001.

(Logo courtesy of Kentucky Speedway)

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Bridges Bill Clears Kentucky House Panel

From Kentucky Public Radio’s Tony McVeigh

Two of Gov. Steve Beshear’s four special session bills have cleared their first hurdle in the Kentucky General Assembly.

The first bill would create a government authority to oversee major bridge projects in the state. The authority would use bonds to finance the projects and likely impose tolls to retire the bonds. Rep. Jim Wayne says that includes the Ohio River Bridges Project in Louisville.

“The way it’s anticipated is that tolls would have to be part of the financing of the Louisville bridges. Right now, the Louisville bridges are estimated to cost about four-point-one billion dollars. But that figure is probably about half of what it’s really going to cost.”

The other bill winning House Appropriations and Revenue committee approval provides economic incentives to make Kentucky more attractive to businesses like the film industry. Incentives to help bring a NASCAR Sprint Cup Race to the Kentucky Speedway in Sparta are also in the bill.

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Legislative Session Ends In Frankfort

From Kentucky Public Radio’s Tony McVeigh

The 2009 session of the Kentucky General Assembly came to an early end Thursday.

Governor Steve Beshear’s incentive package, which included tax breaks for the Kentucky Speedway, was among legislation failing to win final passage before lawmakers left town. Track officials were hoping to use the incentives to attract a NASCAR Sprint Cup race.

“Here we have a company who is ready to perhaps invest 50 to 75-million dollars to renovate and expand Kentucky Speedway, if the incentives are in place, and right now the incentives aren’t in place,” Beshear said.

Beshear says he’s disappointed the incentives bill and other legislation failed to emerge, but he says much was accomplished during the short session, which lasted 29 days. The decision to end a day early was made by House Democrats, who wanted to remain in compliance with new rules approved with the election of their new leaders.

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NASCAR Bill Moving Through KY Legislature

From Kentucky Public Radio’s Tony McVeigh

Legislation aimed at helping bring a NASCAR Sprint Cup race to northern Kentucky is off to a fast start in the 2009 General Assembly.

In 1998, northern Kentucky businessman Jerry Carroll and four other investors started purchasing farmland near Sparta, where they built a 162-million dollar racetrack. They called the one-and-half-mile tri-oval, which opened in June 2000, the Kentucky Speedway. Their ultimate goal was to attract a NASCAR Sprint Cup race, the pinnacle of stock car races in America. But by 2005, the disillusioned owners were suing NASCAR for conspiring to restrict the Kentucky track from acquiring a NASCAR Cup race.

Federal Judge William Bertlesman ruled NASCAR never promised Kentucky a Cup Series date and dismissed the lawsuit. It’s still on appeal, and NASCAR says it won’t even consider a Kentucky race date until the case is resolved.

In the meantime, Kentucky Speedway has been purchased by Speedway Motorsports, Inc., or SMI, which owns seven racetracks that host NASCAR Sprint Cup Series events. With the purchase, the company can move a Sprint Cup date from one of its existing tracks to Kentucky if it so desires. That’s exactly what SMI has in mind, and hopes the state will help them achieve the goal by providing some tax incentives to improve the Kentucky track. An incentives bill is sponsored by House Majority Leader Rocky Adkins.

“We are, with this piece of legislation, able to go back with a new owner who has the ability to hopefully bring a premier race – a nationally televised event – to Kentucky,” Adkins said.

Attorney Mark Guilfoyle represents Speedway Motorsports, Inc:
“What we’re laying here before you in House Bill 521, is an incentive package. It’s the only thing that the new owner has asked for, to give him the ability to justify, how can I move a race from one of my other tracks to Kentucky.”

Guilfoyle says SMI chairman Bruton Smith is prepared to spend upward of 70-million dollars to improve the track, if the state will help offset some of the costs.

“If the new owner doesn’t bring the Sprint Cup race to Kentucky, the Commonwealth is not out one dime. So, this is truly an incentive to have this company bring a race to Kentucky.”

The prospect excites Beshear administration officials, who wholeheartedly back the incentives package. Cabinet Secretary Larry Hayes says he and Governor Beshear recently toured SMI racetracks in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Bristol, Tennessee, and were enthralled by what they saw.

“People move in with campers and there is a virtual city that is built up around that, that people for up to a week, spend their time, and what they call the trash and trinkets is the category of some of the items that vendors set up around, and the numbers that were quoted to us, it’s incredible,” Hayes said.

He says one Sprint Cup race alone could have a $200 million economic impact on northern Kentucky. He, Rep. Adkins and Mark Guilfoyle all testified this week before the House Appropriations and Revenue committee, where the incentives package was warmly received. In fact, it passed 25-1, after a rousing pep talk from Rep. Keith Hall, who told his colleagues he would walk from Phelps to Warsaw to witness a Sprint Cup race.

“And you take this message back to NASCAR. 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”
Hall said.

The incentives package, which is an extension and expansion of the package provided to the original owners of the racetrack, now moves to the House floor. The measure would allow SMI, through sales tax revenue, to recoup 25-percent of expansion costs over a 20-year period.