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By Amanda Van Benschoten
The Kentucky Enquirer
SPARTA — A steady stream of traffic moved smoothly into the Kentucky Speedway all day Saturday for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Quaker State 400 – a sharp contrast to last year’s inaugural race, where mismanaged and inadequate parking resulted in hours-long traffic jams that caused more than 10,000 fans to miss the race entirely.
It took Jim and Connie Buschle of College Hill seven and a half hours last year to travel the 53 miles south from their home, and they slipped into their seats just in time to hear “Gentlemen, start your engines!” This year, the trip took just an hour, and the Buschles arrived in plenty of time to enjoy the pre-race festivities that make a NASCAR race a daylong spectacle.
“Last year, we arrived too late to enjoy this. This year we left early, anticipating traffic, and we didn’t have any,” Connie Buschle said. “We were amazed. It’s greatly improved from last year.”
The Kentucky Speedway and the state spent $11 million over the past year to make sure that happened.
Speedway General Manager Mark Simendinger attributed Saturday’s smooth operations to those improvements and to the successful execution of a traffic management plan that was a year in the making. “We are trying to build the very best speedway in America. That’s our goal,” he said. “When we come to work, that’s what we talk about: What does it take to be the best? So I really feel good. Taking care of this traffic thing will show people we’re serious about it, we’ve done what we need to do and now let’s focus on the racing.”
Attendance likely was a factor. Crowd estimates weren’t immediately available, but attendance was clearly lighter than last year’s sellout, which drew 107,000. The Speedway significantly expanded capacity, buying 143 nearby acres that allowed it to add 20,000 parking spots. It also graveled over unpaved lots and added parking stripes to maximize capacity.
Speedway and state officials, including state police, also developed a detailed race-day plan for parking and traffic. On Saturday, state troopers expertly and efficiently guided vehicles into parking lots at the Speedway, unlike last year’s congestion.
Infrastructure improvements by the state also greatly helped keep traffic flowing smoothly on Saturday. The state widened the exit ramp from southbound Interstate 71 and widened Ky. 35, the main artery leading to the Speedway. It also built a massive, 42-foot-wide pedestrian tunnel under Ky. 35, which improved safety for fans on foot and reduced delays on the roadway. Gov. Steve Beshear said the state’s $3.7 million investment was a sound one that will reap dividends as the race continues to grow.
“It’s a great relief, first of all, that things are working. I was confident that they would,” he said Saturday evening shortly after arriving at the Speedway. “The payoff is walking around here, seeing the smiles on everybody’s faces as they’re able to get in here easily.
“They’re able to walk around enjoying themselves like NASCAR fans do. That just means this race will continue to build every year from now on.”
Most of the people interviewed by The Enquirer on Saturday were returning race fans who attended last year’s event. It took Ted and Tami Lambert of Columbus just an hour on Saturday to make the 55-mile trip from their Georgetown, Ky., hotel compared to a nine-hour trek last year that caused them to miss most of the race. “It’s a big improvement this year – big,” said Tami Lambert.
Even race fans who arrived late in the day reported no problems with traffic or parking.
--Kentucky News Content Service