official assures chamber
that traffic, security are top priorities
WARSAW, Ky. (April 2000) With only two months before the green
flag falls at the $152 million Kentucky Speedway, Gallatin County business
leaders are bracing for an onslaught of traffic and attention on the
sleepy, rural community that is usually reserved for the big cities
of neighboring Louisville and CIncinnati.
by Don Ward
begin assembling the
seatbacks on the grandstand bleachers
at the Kentucky Speedway.
But with so many questions about what is actually going
on up there on top of the hills above Warsaw, the Gallatin County Chamber
of Commerce invited Kentucky Speedway vice president and general manager
Mark Cassis to speak at its March luncheon to fill them in.
Cassis did that and more during an hour-long chat that was both informative
and, for some of the 40-plus who attended, surprising when you consider
the litany of entertainment options being considered by Florence, Ky.,
developer Jerry Carroll and his group.
In addition to the four major race weekends on the inaugural season
schedule, the list is indeed impressive: a second quarter-mile track
in the infield to hold celebrity Legends car racing, bandeleros and
go cart racing; a dirt track; a drag strip; and possibly an off-road
four-wheeler and motocross track.
Sounds like they'll be racing everything but wheelchairs up there.
The Richard Petty Driving School also will hold sessions in September
for those who can't get enough of the action from the grandstands.
And if auto racing isn't your thing, you may wind up there to attend
a country music concert in the racing offseason. There will also be
a convention center, complete with meetings rooms and lounges available
to civic and corporate groups.
"We will be open year-round as part the agreement in our tourism
grant with the state of Kentucky," said Cassis, a West Virginia
University graduate who has 17 years experience in marketing with three
Fortune 500 companies. "And believe me, there will be something
Cassis reeled off the list of track amenities and parking arrangements
planned at the 1,000-acre site, including a new administration office
complex now going up at the front entrance. The 1.5-mile tri-oval track
features 14-degree banking and lighting for night-time race events.
Phase I of the complex will seat 66,000 people in the grandstand, 50
luxury suites and 14,000-seat tower, which, by the way, is sold out.
The capacity can be expanded to accommodate 120,000 people should Carroll's
group land a NASCAR Winston Cup event.
"We're planning for it," Cassis said. "It may be four
years away, but we believe it will come."
Cassis compared the impact of a Winston Cup weekend to that of a Super
Bowl. "It typically generates $70 to $100 million in economic impact
wherever it's at," he said.
Cassis, who has attended dozens of NASCAR events, explained the series
of events that take place throughout the week leading up to a Winston
Though not as big as a Winston Cup, Kentucky Speedway officials are
planning a pretty big bash of their own come opening weekend on June
16-17 for the NASCAR Slim Jim All-Pro Series and the "Kroger 225,"
a NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Race. The festivities will get under
way on Friday evening for The CIncinnati Enquirer & Post Pole Night
qualifying and "The Kentucky 100," a NASCAR All-Pro Race.
Saturday night's schedule will include fireworks, celebrities, parades
and live muscial entertainment. "Our goal is to have 66,000 people
in the stands on that Saturday night," Cassis said.
Considering the mad ticket-buying spree that occurred on March 6 when
the track began selling single event tickets, that shouldn't be any
problem. "Our phone system blew out twice," Cassis said.
by Don Ward
construction continues on a
two-lane ramp at the Sparta exit
of I-71 leading to the speedway.
Other race events include "The Kentucky 150,"
an ARCA event on July 2; "The Blue Grass Quality Meats 200,"
an ARCA event on Aug. 26; and the season premier event, "The Belterra
Resort Indy 300," a Indy Racing Northern Light Series event set
for Aug. 27 and featuring opened-wheel Indy cars.
Such excitement may have Gallatin residents shaking in their shoes.
Several chamber members questioned Cassis about the speedway's traffic
control plans, security concerns, employment needs and race day parking.
Currently, state highway workers are completing a two-lane exit off
I-71 at Sparta to ferry cars into the track on race day. A six-lane
road around the track has already been built. Within the next few years,
a new road will be built to connect the track and a future I-71 interchange
to the Markland Dam bridge into Indiana.
"I've been to Talladega (Ala.), and it scares me to death what
this might do to our community," Warsaw resident Bonnie Erpenbeck
Cassis agreed that traffic may be heavy in town on race days. "Our
numbers are strong in Cincinnati, and some are going to be coming down
Hwy 42," he said.
NASCAR fan and Warsaw resident Loretta Lawson said, "I've already
got my tickets; we're all very excited."
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