The Politics of Speed: First Impressions are Important

Traffic at the Kentucky Speedway

Last week I told you about Kentucky Speedway finally getting to host it’s first Sprint Cup race. Since it was first built 10 years ago, the folks at Kentucky Speedway have been longing for one of the coveted Sprint Cup races to visit their track. The previous owners went as far as suing NASCAR to get a Sprint Cup race (at that time called the Nextel Cup).

So, after 10 long years of waiting, how did the Quaker State 400 turn out?

Unfortunately, not that great.

It definitely wasn’t what you would call smooth. Being located in the small town of Sparta, KY, the highway system was not at all prepared to handle the more than 100,000 fans, racing teams, vendors, etc. that descended. Due to this, these good people waited for hours in traffic and walked for miles to get to the event they payed top dollar to see. In some cases fans had to be turned away entirely! All of the frustration from fans manifested on the Facebook page for Kentucky Speedway. The comment released by Track General Manager Mark Simendinger received over 1,100 comments, most of which were not exactly glowing. The statement from Simendinger only said that he was aware of, “challenges related to traffic” and that they were planning improvements.

The problem with that statement should be fairly obvious. As GM you better realize that NASCAR fans are what drives the sport forward. I believe that NASCAR executives, drivers, teams, and owners realize this, therefore, when something like this angers and frustrates fans as much as it did, it should jump to the top of your priority list. Do not try and sugarcoat it. Thankfully, it seems that they were mostly just slow reacting to the fan and media backlash.

Speedway Motorsports, Inc. (the organization that manages Kentucky Speedway along with several others) has responded by offering fans that missed out on the race a ticket exchange opportunity. Any fan with a Kentucky Speedway ticket will be able to redeem it at any Sprint Cup race at an SMI track for the rest of the year or at the 2012 Kentucky Speedway race. Indianapolis Motor Speedway is also offering a few incentives to the fans that missed out.

This is well and good, however, as the title suggests, the point of all of this is that first impressions are important. I’ll say now that I am a fan of anything I deem to be a positive thing for the state of Kentucky. I believe that having a Sprint Cup race in the state (making it Kentucky’s only professional sporting event) is a huge plus. That is why it is so disappointing that the Quaker State 400 offered such a poor fan experience. Sure, the Sprint Cup will be back in 2012, but what about after that? I can’t imagine NASCAR executives lingering in Kentucky very long if they do not see marked improvements next year.

Kentucky Speedway has begged for 10 years, changed ownership, and made extensive improvements and expansions to the track, all in the hope of having a consistent NASCAR presence in this state that is home to many fans of the sport. Now we are left to hope that it wasn’t all naught.

Oh, by the way, Kyle Busch won the race and took over the points lead. So there’s that.

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