Nextel Cup still the goal

Speedway owners keep eye on the prize

2005 season promises more thrills
for fans with racing, concerts

By Done Ward

SPARTA, KY (May 2005) - Kentucky Speedway officials are gearing for their sixth season with a full lineup of races and top-notch concerts on tap. But all the while they continue to keep their eyes on the ultimate prize: a Nextel Cup race.
“Our goal remains the same; it hasn’t changed since the beginning,” insists Mark Cassis, vice president and general manager of the $152 million facility in the hills of north central Kentucky.
To prove their point, track officials in May will begin installing a $1 million second-generation Steel And Foam Energy Reduction (SAFER) Barrier System inside the concrete retaining wall that spans Turns 1-2 and Turns 3-4. The system is designed to minimize drivers’ injuries on hard impacts under race conditions. Track officials plan to have the new barrier system in place in time for the June 18 NASCAR Busch Series event.
The system has been installed in other Nextel Cup venues around the country, and Kentucky Speedway owners want to stay current with the technologies that will keep them in the running for a coveted Cup date.
“Our owners group will just not stop investing in this track,” Cassis said during a late April interview. “We’ve got a great group of sponsors, and we’ll do everything we can to ring the bell at the turnstyles, which is what it’s all about.”
Track developer and co-owner Jerry Carroll said he is focused on doing all he can “to grow this track into something even bigger and better.”
Carroll, a longtime horse racing owner, sold his last four race horses last June and has gotten entirely out of the sport. He remains committed to landing a Nextel Cup in Sparta and says he is also busy with his commercial real estate activities in northern Kentucky.
He is also watching with interest the political wranglings in Frankfort over the legalized gambling issue, in hopes that he will be in a key position, from a real estate standpoint, if the state approves it. (Carroll says it’s a matter of when, not if.)
Meantime, Carroll’s auto racing venture in Sparta continues to set attendance records and draw accolades from race drivers and fans alike. This season promises to be no different. Cassis said an announcement is Southeast Series – because the American Speed Association folded in the offseason. ASA had the third race event on the September ticket last year.
“I’m sorry to see ASA fold, but we’ll still have a great race weekend in September,” Cassis said. “You can’t go wrong with the Charlie Daniels Band.”
Together with the frequent testing at the track by Nextel Cup and other race leagues and driving schools, the Kentucky Speedway will be in operation well over 300 days in 2005, Cassis said.
“You just can’t beat that. But we would trade it all in an instant for a Nextel Cup race.”
Cassis said the track’s owners plan to stay on their course of doing everything first class in Sparta in hopes that some day their turn will come. He says the politics in Daytona and the heavily financed France family’s ownership of NASCAR are the primary obstacles. Cassis said Kentucky Speedway owners are not in constant communication with the Frances, but he added, “We talk to them when we need to. They know we’re here and what we’re doing.
“I thought we would have had a Cup date by 2005, but that’s OK. We’re just as determined now as ever.”

• Don Ward is the editor, publisher and owner of the RoundAbout Entertainment Guide. Call him at (812) 273-2259.

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