By Don Ward
(February 2009) The new owner of the Kentucky Speedway has big plans to not only change the design of the infield but promises to bring a NASCAR Spring Cup race to the 8-year-old Sparta, Ky., facility next year. Thats if the current lawsuit filed by the previous owner against NASCAR is resolved, said Bruton Smith during a radio interview Jan. 18 on Cincinnatis 700 WLW AM.
Speedway Motorsports Inc.
Tracks owned: Lowes Motor Speedway (Concord, N.C.); Atlanta Motor Speedway (Hampton, Ga.); Bristol Motor Speedway (Tenn.); Infineon Raceway (Sonoma, Calif.); Kentucky Speedway;
Las Vegas Motor Speedway; New Hampshire Motor Speedway (Loudon, N.H.); Texas Motor Speedway (Fort Worth, Texas).
Smith, the CEO and chairman of Speedway Motorsports Inc. based in Concord, N.C., bought the track for $78.3 million, including the a $63.3 million debt assumption. The track cost $152 million to build.
The billionaire car dealer appeared on the weekly Sunday night race call-in radio show, hosted by Bill Seg Dennison, just a week after having spent two days at the Kentucky Speedway with his engineers and architects. Smith, whose company owns seven other race tracks that annually host 11 NASCAR Spring Cup events, said he wanted to improve the amenities in Sparta for those fans who spend up to a week in their RVs at a race. To do so, he plans to expand RV facilities by putting them in the infield, and add new restrooms and shower facilities for fans.
We want to accommodate those people who come with their motor coaches and may spend up to a week at a race. This is a big growth part of all my speedways today, said Smith, 81.
He also wants to tear down the existing race car garages and build neon garages, similar to what he has at his Las Vegas race track. We want to make the experience more fan friendly. We built neon garages in Vegas, and the fans and the race car drivers love it.
Smith said he planned to start within a week, weather permitting, to move 3 million to 4 million yards of dirt to change the design of the infield and improve parking and roads coming and out of the track. His SMI group already has redesigned the Kentucky Speedway logo and the tracks Internet website.
The first of four 2009 race events is scheduled for May 9 with the ARCA weekend. That will be followed by the NASCAR Nationwide Series race on June 13; the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race on July 18; and the IndyCar Series race on Aug. 1.
Smith said he is excited about bringing NASCARs premiere Sprint Cup to the Cincinnati market because of the success the previous owner, Jerry Carroll and his investment group. They sold out two races last year (Nationwide Series in June and IndyCar in August). I dont think any other track in the nation can say that, Smith said.
Carrolls group filed an antitrust lawsuit against NASCAR in 2005 because NASCAR would not award Sparta a Sprint Cup race. The suit claimed NASCAR unfairly controlled which tracks host Cup Series races. When a federal judge dismissed the suit last year, Carrolls group appealed the decision. The appeal is schedule for a hearing in 2009 in the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Smith said on the radio show that NASCAR refused to allow him to move one of his Sprint Cup races to Sparta in 2009 because of the pending appeal. NASCAR wants that lawsuit to go away, and we have been working diligently with NASCAR to resolve it. We must bring a Cup race there next year because Ive already wasted a year.
Smith confirmed that he planned to move a Cup race from his existing tracks, but he did not say which one. Four of his tracks Lowes, Bristol, Texas and Atlanta currently play host to two NASCAR Spring Cup races.
Smith said his purchase of the Kentucky Speedway came about because Carroll contact him about buying it. We discussed it, and we made a deal, Smith said.
Carroll, who is staying on as a consultant with SMI, said, The investors followed through with keeping the track open and keeping it alive. And Bruton Smith followed through he said he was going to buy it, and he did.
Carroll headed the group of investors who in 1999-2000 developed the speedway out of Gallatin County farm land located just off I-71. The tracks other investors were Churchill Downs Inc. board member Richard Duchossois, Outback Steakhouse co-founder Chris Sullivan, the late John Lindahl and Cintas chairman Richard Farmer.
Executive Vice President Mark Cassis in December left the Kentucky Speedway team. He had worked there since the track opened in June 2000.
Smith bought his first track then Charlotte Motor Speedway and now Lowes for $1.5 million in 1959 with financing from his brother-in-law. He went bankrupt two years later. He moved to Illinois and eventually bought shares to take back control in the 1970s. In 1995, he shook up the racing world by taking his company public. SMI became the first motorsports company to be traded on the New York Stock Exchange.
He started out wanting to be a race car driver at age 17, but his mother did not approve of it. He then began organizing race events at the request of car owners, and I kept on doing it, and it was sort of a stepping stone (to ownership), he said.
Today, he owns eight NASCAR tracks and employs more than 15,000 people in his companies.
Located on approximately 820 acres in Sparta, Kentucky Speedway features a 1.5-mile tri-oval speedway, with grandstand seating for approximately 66,000 spectators, 50 luxury suites with seats for approximately 2,000, private RV spaces, and reserved and unreserved camping spaces. Smith has said he wants to expand the seating capacity by 50,000.
For more information or to order tickets for the 2009 season, visit: www.KentuckySpeedway.com.