By Patrick Reynolds
The grandstands looked about three-quarters full.
Not bad, considering today’s day and age of a struggling economy. There are many obstacles staring at all levels of professional sports as they try to fill arenas and stadiums to capacity.
Unemployment, high fuel costs, hotel, food, and ticket prices are items on the minds of league and sanctioning body management boards across the sports world. How to overcome those issues and fill seats with fans is a daily effort.
The triple-digit heat and severe storms that hit parts of the Southeast and Midwest during the weekend certainly impacted many people’s recreational activities. Exchanged were times in a motorhome on a summer road trip, for chainsaws and toolboxes doing home repairs and damage control. Those fortunate to have missed the wind, rain, and lightning and not needing property cleanup were still facing air temperature around 100 degrees. Water or air conditioning probably outlined those plans.
Overcoming all of that would be plenty for any sporting event.
But after last year’s traffic and parking debacle for Kentucky Speedway’s inaugural NASCAR Cup Series race, the track should count its lucky stars for every warm body that passed through the gates for Saturday’s 400-mile event.
The track had hosted NASCAR Nationwide Series races for a number of years and to crowds that would be less than a Cup Series race. They had plenty of experience of getting folks in and out. They knew how many seats they added, how many parking spaces they had, and how many tickets
The Kentucky Speedway traffic and parking disaster of 2011 was inexcusable. There was not one single reason for it to happen.
Yet, it did.
I have worked in the sport for many years in different capacities. I differ from several media members because I was not first exposed to the sport when I got my job or was assigned to cover a race.
I started in this sport as a race fan.
My parents would take to me races as a little boy. In my teens I would save my money and days off, and spend both at a racetrack. I can legitimately tell you what I will and will not spend my hard-earned paycheck on in the auto-racing world. I weigh the tickets, food, parking, hotels, and aggravation.
I did not attend last year’s Kentucky Speedway Cup race. But from everything I saw and heard, if I was in a position to buy a ticket and plan a weekend there this year, I wouldn’t. There was just too much of a risk going in.
I heard all the highway and traffic improvements that had been made for 2012. To that, I say nice job.
To that I also say, big deal. Everything should have been in place ahead of time last year. Exactly how far were the Kentucky Speedway heads up some place that was dark?
As a race fan, the speedway would have to prove to me that they have fixed the problems before I spent any money on them. In other words, Kentucky Speedway takes their turn first.
From all reports the speedway’s traffic ran smooth. The Kentucky State Police Twitter feed gave updates Saturday afternoon and there were no issues beyond what anyone would normally encounter getting to a big-league NASCAR event.
The weather, circumstances, and last year’s trouble surely kept the crowd down when compared to 2011. But the number of people that did show up impressed me. I would have been on the “No thanks, Let’s see how 2012 goes before I return,” list.
Hats off to Kentucky Speedway for fixing their errors. Hats off to the fans that showed up and supported the weekend. When a disaster is coming, don’t let it happen and clean up the mess later. Do the right thing in the first place.