Indy Cars Invade Kentucky
for Track’s Season Finale

By Don Ward

SPARTA, Ky. – Baseball great Pete Rose will help kick off festivities at this month’s final race weekend at the new Kentucky Speedway when the former Cincinnati Reds star gives the command for drivers to start their engines and take part in other activities.

The climax of the track’s inaugural season will feature the 200-lap “Belterra Resort Indy 300,” an Aug. 27 race sponsored by the new Belterra Resort and Casino and sanctioned by the Indy Racing League’s Northern Lights Series.
The Automobile Club of America’s Bondo-Hyde Series also will return for the “Bluegrass Quality Meats 200,” a 134-lap event that takes the green flag at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 26.
Indy cars will race around the 2.5-mile tri-oval at speeds ap-proaching 215 mph. Al Unser Jr. topped out at 213 mph during Open Test week here in late June. Teenaged driver Sarah Fisher of Ohio topped all drivers who participated at 218 mph. She drives for veteran Indy-style car owner Derrick Walker.
“I see the pole sitter coming in at something over 215 mph,” said Unser during his July visit to Sparta.
“The track is great. And the more banking you have, the more equal the cars become. It brings in more draft, and we’re running wide open all the time, so it becomes a drafting game.”
The IRL race is the eighth of nine events for drivers competing for the 2000 season points championship, which is being defended by 1999 winner Greg Ray of Plano, Texas.
Ray won the last IRL race, July 15 in Atlanta, but he will have a hard time repeating since his bad luck this year puts him 11th in points coming into Sparta.
Buddy Lazier leads the points race with 208, followed by Eddie Cheever Jr. with 185 and Scott Goodyear with 175. The IRL has shown a large degree of parity this season, with seven different winners in seven races.
Ray, meanwhile, is hoping his turn of good luck in Atlanta will put him on a winning course for the final two events. It has been a surprising season of bad luck for the series defending champion.
Despite starting from the pole five times, his previous-best finish this year was ninth in the Vegas Indy 300 in April at Las Vegas.
After finishing last in the Indianapolis 500 after earning the pole, Ray experienced engine failure six laps from the end of the Casino Magic 500 at Texas to finish 15th.
Then an accident in the Radisson Indy 200 at Pikes Peak dropped him to 20th. He left Colorado in June with a damaged car and in 19th place in the Northern Light Cup point standings.
But a new approach helped Ray win at Atlanta and leap in the standings.
“After Pikes Peak I took a big step backward,” Ray said. “I wasn’t being aggressive enough in some areas, and I was being too aggressive in other areas, and I was trying to make things happen where maybe I shouldn’t have.”
On July 18, Ray and Team Menard conducted private testing at the Kentucky Speedway along with Kelley Racing, Panther Racing and Treadway Racing in preparation for the Belterra 300. Last November, Ray was the first to test at the new facility while it was still under heavy construction.
“It’s a first-class facility all the way,” Ray said of the new speedway. “The track is very wide, very smooth, and it has a speed rhythm to it. It’s going to be a very racy place.”
While Kentucky’s track is the same distance as Atlanta, Las Vegas and Texas, the new track has unique characteristics, Ray said.
“When you come off of Turn 4, the banking really holds you,” Ray said. “It’s very, very wide there. It’s going to make for some incredible passing because it is so wide. It wouldn’t surprise me a bit to see a last-lap, last-corner pass for the lead.”
Track officials say problems caused by heavy rains during the June 16-17 opening weekend have been remedied with the addition of 10,000 new contingency lot spaces, a new VIP lot and a new RV/camping area.
Since that first weekend, the track has successfully accommodated a record stand-alone crowd of more than 30,000 people for the July 2 ARCA race and more than 52,000 for a July rock concert.
“We’ve proved that we can move traffic and park cars, and we are ready to have the fans come out on Aug. 26 and 27,” said general manager Mark Cassis.

Back to August 2000 Articles.



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