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Finally 'apology' for Kentucky traffic mess...but other NASCAR men worry fan backlash may spread

   Exuberant Kentucky fans Saturday afternoon at Kentucky Speedway for NASCAR's Sprint Cup tour debut (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern


    Finally, the word 'apology.'
    But apparently no refunds to any of the thousands of fans with tickets who were unable to get in the doors at Kentucky Speedway Saturday night for NASCAR's long awaited Sprint Cup debut at the Cincinnati-area track.
   And other NASCAR track promoters now appear worried that the fan backlash to the stunning traffic fiasco at Kentucky Speedway may expand, perhaps hitting their own events.

   Michigan promoter Roger Curtis: "What should have been a shining moment for the sport of NASCAR and all the racetracks, especially those in the Midwest, has sadly, potentially, put all of us back several steps – maybe even years."

    It's taken a few days, but Kentucky Speedway officials are at last officially 'apologizing' for the mammoth traffic jam surrounding Saturday night's Kentucky 400.
    "I would like to apologize, on behalf of Speedway Motorsports, to the fans who had tickets, yet due to logistical issues, were not able to attend the inaugural Sprint Cup Series race at Kentucky Speedway," Marcus Smith says in a statement released Monday afternoon.
   Smith is the number two man at Bruton Smith's Speedway Motorsports, owner of the Kentucky track and seven other NASCAR venues around the country.
   Though there will apparently be no refunds, Smith is offering to exchange those unused Kentucky tickets for tickets to any of Speedway Motorsports' Cup events this season --  the July 17th race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, the Aug. 27th race at Bristol Motor Speedway, the Sept. 4th race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, the Sept. 25th race at New Hampshire, the Oct. 15th race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, or the Nov. 6th race at Texas Motor Speedway....or the 2012 race at Kentucky Speedway.
   Additionally, Smith says he will issue these fans an equal quantity of tickets to either Kentucky Speedway's Oct. 1st Truck 225-mile race or the Oct. 2nd Indy-car 300.

    Son and father, Marcus and Bruton Smith, the men who run Speedway Motorsports, and the men at the heart of the Kentucky controversy (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   "Our company has always been about enhancing the fan experience with first-class amenities and putting fans first," Smith went on.
   "I feel terrible for the fans that had a bad experience at Kentucky Speedway, and we are asking that they give us a chance to make it up to them.
   "We are very thankful for the overwhelming fan support we had for this inaugural event. We learned some valuable lessons this past weekend and will do everything in our power to make sure we don't have these issues again."
    Mark Simendinger, the general manager of the Kentucky track, in his third brief statement on the issue, finally used the word 'apology' too:
   "To those fans that were not able to attend the Quaker State 400, we offer our sincerest apologies.
   "We'd also like to apologize to all of our fans who endured challenging conditions during our event weekend.
   "As we said earlier, we're committed to working with NASCAR, state and local officials and traffic experts to address Saturday's traffic issues to ensure that we never have this type of experience again."

    Damage control is now quickly underway elsewhere in the NASCAR world  in the wake of the Kentucky traffic mess.
    Other NASCAR tour tracks have jumped into the marketing fray, and there are strong indications track officials may be worried that the fan backlash over the Kentucky Speedway traffic debacle may spread.

   -- Indianapolis Motor Speedway is offering special Brickyard 400 promotions worth up to $50 for ticket holders of the Kentucky 400.
    Fans presenting a ticket from the Kentucky Cup race will receive one free admission to Brickyard 400 practice Friday July 29, or Brickyard 400 qualifying Saturday for $5. Fans with Kentucky tickets can park free Friday and Saturday; the regular price is $10 per day.
   The Indy track is just two hours from Kentucky Speedway, and it's been unclear if adding the Kentucky 400 to the NASCAR tour in early July would help or hurt the Brickyard 400 in late July.
    Indianapolis traffic control is considered the best in racing, able to clear out more than 200,000 fans, in the middle of the city, within two or three hours after the race.
    However Indy is still struggling to reach out to NASCAR fans who were so turned off by the 2008 Brickyard tire disaster....and fans who may have become disenchanted with some of the more boring stock car racing on the tour, on the flat, square track that is so unconducive to low-downforce stock cars.
   -- Talladega Superspeedway boss Grant Lynch, looking to promote his Oct. 23 Talladega 500, wants to assure fans his staff is "well-prepared" for the 100,000-plus crowd for his event.
   "After hearing how rough the fans had it at Kentucky, I wanted to let them know we're ready to show how a race weekend is supposed to run," Lynch says. "We put fan experience at the forefront of everything we do.  That's why we allow coolers in our grandstands (no coolers at Kentucky Speedway has been a contentious issues among fans) and provide hundreds of acres of free camping.
   "It's also why we work closely with the Alabama State Troopers and other organizations to ensure our fans arrive on time to see the race."
    Lynch also took a jab at the lackluster racing action last Saturday night by pointing out that Talladega holds records for lead changes.


   Roger Curtis (R, with driver Ryan Newman) is making the strongest statement yet about the Kentucky fiasco (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   -- But it is Roger Curtis, the Michigan International Speedway president, who made the strongest statement yet in all this -- issuing a lengthy treatise on the Kentucky issue....an issue which could bear directly on his own Aug. 21st Cup weekend, because the Michigan track also draws from the Ohio/Indiana/Kentucky area:
       "A sellout NASCAR race at Kentucky Speedway should have signaled the continuation of great things for race fans in the Midwest and for our sport.
     "Unfortunately Saturday night's events became an exercise in blame and unpreparedness – and race fans, corporate partners, media and drivers were caught in the middle.
     "As a track promoter I am saddened and embarrassed about what happened this weekend. To think all the hard work that we've done here at Michigan International Speedway and other tracks have done could be so quickly erased by Saturday's events. That speedway, having been open for racing since 2000, should have known the challenges it would face when it tripled in size.
     "Just to be clear: This isn't about kicking a race track when it's down. We all make mistakes and MIS has certainly had past issues with traffic.
     "And it isn't about trying to sway a Kentucky Speedway ticketholder to come to Michigan – though we will be happy to treat them the way they should be treated should they want to give us a chance.
    "It's about apologizing and doing what's right when you are clearly in the wrong. It is about having your priorities right in the first place – on the fan experience.
    "That’s why I'm upset.
     "It is bad enough the racetrack went into the weekend knowing traffic was going to be worse than they had previously had with other series. But to think Bruton Smith made light of it with the media, and then pointed the finger at the State of Kentucky when posed with traffic questions is unfathomable.
    "We work tirelessly with our legislators and local officials to ensure traffic moves efficiently and safely. We collaborate with local communities, our state, public safety officials and first-responders to ensure an event at Michigan International Speedway is a true public-private partnership, and not a business threatening to hold its region hostage to meet our demands.
    "It appears the mentality at some other racetracks today is to see how much money they can make off a fan. Their line of thinking is to ban coolers, have fire-sales on last-minute tickets, build, build, build without thinking, thinking, thinking, and blame others for their mistakes.
    "Don't get me wrong: We are not perfect. But we listen to our fans, we recognize our shortcomings and we try to overcome them so race fans don't feel the burden. Most importantly, we learn from them so those mistakes don't happen again.
     "Michigan International Speedway is sincere when we say we want to do things for our fans to grow our business. That's why we lowered ticket prices for all our loyal fans, why we launched a Fan Appreciation program, why we have a Fan Advisory Board, why we allow larger coolers in the grandstands, why parking is always free and plenty, why we have invested more than $60 million in our facility the past four years, why we continue to work with the State of Michigan, the Michigan Department of Transportation, the Michigan State Police to manage race-day traffic and why we have real race fans give a Fans' Trophy to the winning driver in Victory Lane.
       "We try really hard to educate our fans on traffic and our facility, have a system of feedback and information sharing with all our guests, and we listen to our guests about changes we need to make to grow our business. Fans are our bottom line.
     "On behalf of the MIS staff, I apologize to all the race fans whose expectations were not met this weekend, but also to those who read all the stories and were taken back by the treatment other people received.
     "That is not how we do business at our racetrack – and it's certainly not indicative of how every track operates. I hope fans recognize this and realize the vast majority in this great sport (not just tracks, but NASCAR officials, drivers and owners, as well) are working hard for the fans and do have their priorities right.
     "We do not take our guests for granted, and we pledge to do everything we can every day to make your experience at MIS the best it can be.
     "We won't undercut our loyal customers with a knee-jerk ticket offer to make up for what happened on Saturday. But we will match what our loyal customers received by offering any race fan who has not had their expectations met at any racetrack with our lowest ticket price of the season for seats in Turns 1 and 3. Send us your race ticket and you can purchase a reserved ticket for $45 for the August 21 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway."


     A nice sellout crowd at Kentucky Speedway....but what a traffic mess out on the boulevard (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


    Greg Biffle is getting a new crew chief, Matt Puccia, taking over for Greg Erwin beginning with this weekend's New Hampshire race.
    Erwin has been Biffle's crew chief for four years now, but the team's last tour win was last October in Kansas City.
    Puccia, who was Paul Menard's Nationwide crew chief last season, has been with the Jack Roush operation since 2004.
    "This is a natural progression of our crew chief development, and I have every confidence he will do well," Roush says.
   There was no immediate word about Erwin's future.

    What's the difference between a Friday night Nationwide race and a Saturday night Nationwide race, on television?
    ESPN now has some data: last weekend's Friday night race drew a 1.2 rating, with about 1.6 million viewers; last year's race, run on Saturday night in June, drew a 1.4 rating.

Kentucky verses Talladega

I did a Google Map search to take a look at the Kentucky access of of I 71. I went ahead and also did a ground level check. And when I did I thought it looked awfully familiar. So I did another Map search for Talladega and als did a ground level check. It would be hard to tell the difference between the I 71 exit and the Rt20 exit. The roads look exactly the same.

You have to expect delays in traffic during large sporting events (People here in Nashville stay in their homes if you live near Vandy during a football game- and we do). But the delays in Kentucky appear to be due to extremely poor planning by Bruton and company.

fan backlash

I can say that we've sat in traffic at other tracks but certainly never experienced anything like that debacle in KY. I would never return to a track after that experienc. Also, I always check the track website to find out the "cooler policy". While we are not big beer drinkers, I want to be able to bring in my own water and soft drinks and we don't buy tickets to any track that doesn't allow that. If they want to restrict alcohol being brought in, that's fine, but apparently there wasn't even a KY law against the coolers just alcohol. Sounds like Bruton just wanted to make more money.

I've never been to the Michigan speedway - it's not on my list since it's IMO another D-shaped oval and I don't need to see another race at one of those. However, the president of that track at least knows how to make a make a statement that is a lot more appealing and well written than the one Bruton and his kid made. It almost makes me want to go, just to see how good their fan effort really is.

The grandstanding by the

The grandstanding by the Talladega and Michigan presidents is laughable. Like nobody has ever sat in traffic coming into and out of their tracks for long periods of time. The Michigan boss is in charge of a track that produces some of the most boring racing each year, and us fans have to bear it not once, but twice. Maybe he should worry about that instead of traffic problems at other tracks. As for Talladega's image, they are known as much for fans that throw beer cans on the track as they are for the good racing their track produces. That's not a very good reputation to have, either. These track bosses need to quit casting stones and fix their own problems before they bash other tracks. They might actually have sellouts, too, if they do that.

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