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What a traffic mess! Five hours to drive 60 miles to Kentucky Speedway? Horror stories abound, and memories of the great Texas jam of '97

  Texas promoter Eddie Gossage: When Eddie speaks, everyone listens. After all, he conquered the mother of all NASCAR traffic jams, back in 1997...which was just a distant memory until Saturday's traffic fiasco for the Sprint Cup debut at Kentucky Speedway. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern


   SPARTA, Ky.
   Eddie Gossage has been through this all before.
   And on a scale even larger than the traffic mess that has surrounded Kentucky Speedway most of Saturday, in the hours before NASCAR's Sprint Cup tour debut.

   Gossage runs Texas Motor Speedway for track mega-owner Bruton Smith. And Gossage is in charge of moving more traffic and dealing with more people than just about any other promoter in stock car racing. It is a daunting task, to be sure.
   And that very first day, wow! It was a doozy. Yes, Gossage was right at ground zero back in 1997 when Texas first opened….with the mother of all traffic jams, on that rain-soaked weekend. Traffic was so bad that Robert Yates' guys even hired horses to get them out of the track after the race. (Or at least that's what they claimed.) Team owner Jack Roush was so irate at traffic control that day that he nearly didn't make it to the track at all...for a race he would go on to win.
   The next few Texas races weren't quite that troublesome, but traffic was always in everyone's minds for several years.
   Now though Texas traffic moves quite smoothly, pre-race and post-race, not bad at all for a place that packs in 160,000-plus and that probably has more cars to deal with than any other track on the NASCAR tour. (And Texas Motor Speedway probably uses more traffic cones than any other event on the planet.)
   So what's Gossage's take on this Kentucky Speedway traffic fiasco?
    "Well, I appreciate you bringing all that back up….because I've spent thousands and thousands of dollars to try to fix it and forget it," Gossage says with a laugh, about Texas' spectacular 1997 launch.
   But even now, Gossage was saying, with a wry grimace Saturday afternoon, there are problems, even with all the preparation a promoter can muster:
   "Tony George (the former Indianapolis Motor Speedway boss) came to our Indy-car race the other day, and I hadn't seen Tony in years," Gossage said.
   "So I called Tony and said 'Come on over and see us.' He was staying just across the street from the track. But he said 'I don't have a car.'
   "I said 'No problem, I'll come over and get you.'
   "So I drove across the street to pick up Tony and bringing him over to Bruton's condo…..and the next thing I know I'm on Interstate-35 heading south (away from the track), past the cones and the cops. Had to go down a few exits and turnaround and come back.
   "I've been through it all too…."

     Kentucky Speedway, the newest track on the Sprint Cup circuit, packs 'em in....but getting 'em in first has been something of a problem (Photo: Kentucky Speedway)

    That of course was the very first race weekend at Texas Motor Speedway, and glitches could be expected.
    The difference here is that Kentucky Speedway has been hosting NASCAR races, though not Cup, since 2000. That should have been plenty of time to figure out traffic patterns and parking lots and all that.
    And it's been about a year since Kentucky officially got this Cup date.
   Some are saying if this track couldn't get everything worked out and lined up, with a year of planning and preparation, then maybe it shouldn't have tried to run this race weekend like this – take another year and make sure everything is right.
   Otherwise risk alienating many of the new fans this track should be attracting.
   To hear the Twitters from frustrated fans in the nine hours prior to the race, it's clear that the traffic mess is severe.
   Smith himself blamed the highway itself, I-71, a link interstate between Cincinnati and Louisville, and not really up to modern interstate standards.
   But part of the issues here were the parking lots – apparently not well designed – and the parking officials, who were simply overwhelmed by the deluge of cars.
   Fortunately Saturday was dry and sunny, because most parking lots here are grassy hillsides.
    Gossage listens to that argument and says "Well, yes and no.
   "You're talking about 110,000 people here for this race….and the most they've had here before was some 66,000. That's almost twice as many. That's the size of a baseball stadium-full of people more than ever here.
   "This a Major League Baseball size crowd difference in what they've had here before.
   "Now it's not about the operation. Our operation at Texas has hardly changed at all, just a little fine tuning.
   "The difference is people now have their 'special' way in, their 'special' place to park….and it works.
   "It will take any new facility --  and this is effectively a new facility, with this many more seats than it's ever had before – three, four or five years for everything to sort out and settle down…for everyone to get his 'routine' down.
   "I came in this morning and never stopped. Because I've been here before and knew what to do."

    All well and good. But for those first-time fans who will likely get turned off by the traffic mess….
    "That's the tough part," Gossage says. "While you're going through that teething process, it's tough on the fans.
   "I've been with Mark Simendinger (the Kentucky general manager) all day long…and it's been about nothing but traffic and port-a-jons…."
   Port-a-jons might seem like a small issue. But the gates didn't open Saturday until 2 p.m., and all the fans, as they slowly piled in before then, discovered that most of the bathroom facilities are on the other side of the gates.

    What to suggest here?
    Maybe an eight-lane 'Talladega Blvd.' to surround the speedway and link the two I-71 exits (57 and 55) that service this track?
    Maybe a much better parking plan. (And this article is being written as traffic is slowly pouring into the track, over a nine-hour span; what might happen after the race when all these people try to drive out of here, well, that's another story yet to come.)
   "Fortunately the governor is here, and he will see the need for improving these roads," Gossage says.
   "Hopefully the governor will see the benefit this track offers, and so will the legislature, and they will help out  by building some roads here."
   And this particular situation here in the beautiful rolling hills south of Cincinnati comes just as Texas politicians down in Austin have okayed $25 million to help promote the new Formula One track  being built there for the 2012 racing season.
    Gossage has followed the Austin, Tx., Formula 1 project, and he says he's been impressed that those promoters were able to wrangle $25 million in promotional sponsorship from the local politicians, for the tourism aspect. "I'd love for the Fort Worth city council to give us $25 million….heck, I'd love for them to give us $2500," Gossage said.
   "But once you've been there 15 years….."
    You lose leverage.
   "Maybe we could move the track to Concord, N.C.," Gossage quipped, with a reference to Smith's threat a couple years ago to move Charlotte Motor Speedway to South Carolina unless North Carolina politicos offered some promotional concessions.
    Politicians around the country, Gossage points out, offer promotional concessions to other big sports events, like the Super Bowl, the NBA All-Star game.
    "And we (NASCAR promoters) are talking about events that are much bigger than those," Gossage said. "And we are talking about auto racing facilities that are, by and large, privately financed….where most of your stadiums and arenas are publicly built.
    "Yes, I've met with the state comptroller of Texas, who handles this stuff, and I've asked 'Where's ours?'
    "I think if we were a brand new facility, it would be a whole new ball of wax.
   "So it's a bit frustrating – we've built something, proven it, made it incredibly successful bringing tourists to town, for 15 years now….
   "But once you're in, nobody pays attention."
   Got to strike while the iron is hot.
   And, you'd better believe the iron is hot here today….




Was on vacation for the week

Was on vacation for the week an planned a trip from Ohio to west Virginia then to kentuckey an stayed at general buttler state park just south of the speedway off I 71. We hooked up with the rest of the family which went to the truck race then to the nation wide race on friday. We arrived at the campground on friday evening. My brother-in-law was nice enough to get tickets to all three races and since my daughter is 12 and had never been to a race wanted my family to take the tickets and have a great time at the race. But we never made it to the track due to the major traffic jamb on I 71 north to the track. So by the time the race was half we were still stuck on I 71 So I decided that it was just best to head back to the campground which we did an watched the rest of the race with our tickets in hand. This was the first an last time we ail visit the speedway. We have been going to races since 97, an most of the time was spent at bristol. I would just like to thank the people that were stuck on I 71 with us an being patient. Thanks for the great race day.

thanks,mon....and i know that

thanks,mon....and i know that sucks. i've been doing this for a few years, and i've seen bruton in action, and i am confident there will be some big changes coming. give me some ammunition to throw at bruton when i see him in loudon nh this week. i-71 sucks. the state, if it wants nascar, has to put in a better interchange at 55 and 57. and the track needs better parking, and sharper parking people. i've been to bristol to every race since 1973, so i know traffic horrors. bruton, i am sure, will fix them at KS. i just really feel sick about all the families that had to deal with this mess. and that comes at a gut level. i deal with drivers and crew chiefs and carburetors and tires and all that, but this traffic deal today (i just got back myself, 4am), there was no excuse. they've had 12 years to work on this project, and when they finally get their big day, they blew it. thanks for being patient. i'm not the most patient person myself, so i understand the frustrations. after all my lear is still in the shop, and i've got to get to and from on my own. it aint easy. so i feel the pain.

Hello I spent 6+ hours today

Hello I spent 6+ hours today on i71 & did not see 1 lap of the race. I'm just sick. I came from detroit for the race just to turn around & go back home. Got in traffic backup at 1pm & after 30 laps of the race was complete & still sitting in traffic I had enough. Really up set at all ky. Speedway staff for not doing a better job. Now I have 3 $80 tickets & spent $275 in fuel for a headache. Will neve be back ever again. You can count on that.....

Aj renn.

thanks for making the effort.

thanks for making the effort. i'm sick too that the deal didnt come off right. i just got back to the motel, 4 am, so i feel the pain too. but i plan to see bruton at Loudon, NH in a few days, and i'll let him have my two cents, and your two cents too. trust me, there will be a solution. give me some thoughts to pass on to bruton. i know he's torn up over this because, at heart, he wants to do right for fans. let me personally apologize for the fiasco. (and i would like to know why nascar didnt take the mike and tell the fans that directly.....)

Me and my husband were in

Me and my husband were in traffic for 5 hours and turned around and came home because it was already 40 laps into it. It was horriblE. And by the way we got Within 20 miles of the track at 2:00 so I gUess eastern ky people are smart tooo..

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you're right, it was

you're right, it was horrible. i just got back to my hotel and it's 4 am. unacceptable. and i know backroads and all that. i like bruton and i am confident heads will roll and he'll get things right. he did at texas. but i really must apologize for the way this sport treated people today. this is my sport too, and i cant accept this kind of performance. it's a performance driven business, and today they flunked big time. but stick with us, and send me some ideas, and i'll personally give them to bruton (when he comes out of the bomb shelter lol).

I just don't understand. We

I just don't understand. We stayed at Smuggler's Cove which is only 7 miles from the track. We left at 4:45pm to come down St Rt 1039. At 7:50pm we were still 3 miles from the track. We turned around and went back to the cove to watch the race on tv. This was pathetic. It was like no one at all thought through this. Even if you took the number of tickets sold, divide by 3 (an assumed avg of persons per vehicle) then added 10-15% for surprises, that would have been better than what happened. The officers in the hot sun were just as lost as we all were. I tip my hat to those men and women but as a Kentuckian who wanted to see a race here, this was nothing short of shear embarrassment! We owe our visiting states people a much better experience than what was displayed this weekend. Pitiful at best is my description.
For God's sake, take a photo from a helicopter, blow it up on a topographical board, and put some actual thought into this with someone that has half of a brain.
That piss poor foresight cost that track at least 200k in net profit. I'm out over $600 this weekend just to have not seen a thing after Friday night's race. I could've stayed home and done yard work and saved my money. Hind sight is truly 20/20.

We left lagrange at 4 pm and

We left lagrange at 4 pm and took 42 all the way to highway 47 and came in the back way. Got to the track at 5:30 and in our seats at seven pm. There were no people repeat NO people taking the back road. When we got to exit 40 and saw the back log on 71 we turned around went to exit 34 and then took 42 all the way to 47. We had to hike 3 miles to our seats and it was a heck of a workout. It was killing older folks and lots of ambulances running. The scene of the massive traffic jam at 71 was unbelieveable I have never seen anything like it. What a collosal screw up on the Tracks part. No planning at on the part of the track for a crowd this size. They did not anticipate the crowd.

They are lucky not everyone could make it they were not prepared for the crowd. Its obvious this band of idiots should not be managing this type of race. I would not allow this travesty to happen again. They are lucky someone did not get killed.

It was a mess but a nice race

We too came up St. Rd. 1039

We too came up St. Rd. 1039 from Indy only to find an immediate back up after crossing the river, this was at 1pm! We didn't get onto Speedway Blvd until 6:30pm. I had a handicapped passenger in a wheelchair with oxygen and the only ADA parking was a 1/4 mile from the track. Unacceptable! I turned around and went back home for another 3 hours in the car and still looking at a 5 mile backup on St. Rd 1039 coming from Vevay. People were starting to turn around at that point and heading home, no sense in getting stuck in the parking mess. I have not seen a worse situation since the April 06' Talldega race that was ran the following day, that took 8 hours to get to Birmingham from Anniston which is 45 minuted away. I might be back but i'm bringing the camper for the weekend.

well just like chevy nascar

well just like chevy nascar aint giving you your money back

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