Calm Before the Storm

NASCAR’s Sprint Cup has
area businesses in a race against time

Carrollton taking action to prepare
for weeklong onslaught of race fans

By Don Ward

March 2011 Edition Cover

March 2011
Edition Cover

(March 2011) – With just over four months before the green flag drops on the inaugural NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at the Kentucky Speedway, business owners in nearby Carroll County, Ky., are scrambling to find ways of maximizing their profits on the expected week-long crowd that will descend on the area. This includes everything from restaurants and hotels to campgrounds and retail stores. Carrollton is only 14 miles from the track, which sits off the Sparta exit on I-71, and the closest town with any chain restaurants and hotels. In addition, approximately 15 companies operating in Carrollton have NASCAR sponsorships or race team affiliations of some type.
Speedway Motorsports Inc. of Charlotte, N.C., bought the Kentucky Speedway in December 2008. Since then, it has been busy expanding the seating capacity, camp sites and other amenities since it announced Aug. 10, 2009, that it had landed the Sprint Cup race. SMI owns seven other tracks that play host to NASCAR Sprint Cup races and has extensive experience in hosting NASCAR’s premiere event. Track seating in Sparta is being increased from 66,000 to 105,000 with the addition of two upper tier grandstands on the main straightaway. Most of the expansion was in camping.
The number of campsites increased from 1,000 to 4,500, including 588 sites in the infield, plus the addition of bath houses and restrooms. At the end of February, nearly all the campsites had been sold out and track officials were trying to create more space for campers without impacting the need for parking, said Communications Director Tim Bray.


Photo by Don Ward

Two new tower grandstands are going
up at the Kentucky Speedway,
increasing stadium seating from
66,000 to 105,000 in preparation for
the inaugural July 9 NASCAR Sprint
Cup race in Sparta, Ky.

“Everything is fluid right now, so anyone interested in camping on site should call the office to inquire about what is available,” Bray said.
SMI also renovated and expanded the Fan Center and Gift Shop and in early February moved all of its corporate offices there from Fort Mitchell, Ky.
Jesse Harris, a newly hired marketing assistant at the Kentucky Speedway, spoke to a crowded room of Carroll County Chamber of Commerce members Feb. 8 to explain through a Powerpoint presentation what to expect. He offered advice and related experiences that occur on race week in other NASCAR towns across the nation. He also fielded many questions about how Carroll County can prepare to handle the crowds and what the Speedway is doing to prepare for the triple-header weekend of NASCARs top three racing series on July 7-9. This includes the Camping World Truck Series race on July 7, the Nationwide Series race on July 8 and the prestigious Sprint Cup Series race on July 9.
“This will hands down be the biggest sporting event in Kentucky, doubling the crowd size of the Kentucky Derby. This is the first track in 11 years to be added to the NASCAR schedule. So I encourage you to think outside the box on all levels,” Harris told the group.
Harris is a former race car driver and owner who has moved into marketing as a career for Speedway Motorsports Inc., the new owner of the Sparta, Ky. track. SMI owns seven other tracks that play host to NASCAR’s prestigious Sprint Cup Series.
Harris said that although these fans are coming to see racing, they also will want to do other activities during the week, such as shop, dine, golf, gamble at the casino and explore the area’s other amenities.

Jesse Harris

"This will hands down be the biggest sporting event in Kentucky, doubling the size of the Kentucky Derby."
– Jesse Harris, Kentucky Speedway

Tickets for the season went on sale in mid-January, and Harris said hotels from Florence, Ky., to La Grange already are filling up, including many in Carrollton. Already, 25 rooms have been booked at Holiday Inn Express in Madison, Ind., according to manager Renie Stephens. Madison is only 30 miles from the track.
Harris plans to meet with Oldham County Tourism Director Kim Buckler in early March to discuss ideas and preparations for the crowds coming into the area that week.
Although the races will take place July 7-9, Harris said NASCAR fans usually spend an entire week camping and partying at race events, so they should begin arriving in the area as early as July 5. The Speedway’s camping areas are scheduled to open at noon on Tuesday, July 5 – coming right on the heels of the Madison Regatta Unlimited hydroplane racing weekend on July 1-3.
The Carroll County Chamber has formed a Sprint Cup committee that has been meeting regularly to explore ways to promote and educate local businesses about the upcoming races. Carrollton-Carroll County Tourism Director Rhonda Crutcher and the chamber staff’s Bret Calhoun co-chair this committee.
So far, the committee has evaluated the possible use of billboards, hosting a week-long series of events in Carrollton along Hwy. 227 that leads from downtown to I-71, TV advertising spots and WiFi capability.
“This is going to be the biggest thing to hit Carrollton in a long time, and we want to be ready,” said Crutcher. “I don’t think people really realize yet just how big it is for our region. It’s going to have major impact.”
She said businesses such as Wal-Mart and Kroger are making plans to hold special tent sales for campers and race fans. The City of Carrollton also is gearing up to accommodate the traffic and crowds and hopes to offer space for businesses to set up booths and information tents somewhere on Hwy. 227.
The City of Carrollton recently purchased 60 acres of land along the Kentucky River just south of the Blue Bridge that connects Prestonville to Carrollton. City officials have hired a consulting firm to develop a master plan that would establish a 40-unit RV camping park there, and hopefully be open by July 1, in time for the race week. The master plan also will address developing the riverfront from Point Park to Fifth Street. (See related story on RV park, Page 19)

RV Camping Map

Newly elected Carrollton Mayor Gene McMurry said he hopes live entertainment and other events can be organized to help keep NASCAR fans shopping and eating in Carrollton in between the races. For instance, he is working with car dealer Herb Kinman to possibly bring in country music star George Jones or another singer to perform Friday night, July 8, on the parking lot of the former Reiffen’s Restaurant next door to Kinman Chevrolet. McMurry said the event would include barbecue and other food offerings, either for free or for sale. “I hope we can also plan something in downtown Carrollton to get people to come down there as well.”
Madison Area Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Linda Lytle said no special plans were being made in Madison regarding the NASCAR weekend. She said she had heard that some of the hotels had reported booking rooms for the event, however. Madison will be holding its regular monthly Music in the Park on July 8 and the community will be in the middle of its Jefferson County 4-H Fair week at that time.
Carrollton, meantime, isn’t waiting, knowing it is in the eye of the coming NASCAR storm. In the words of McMurry: “I think this first year is going to open the eyes of some people in the area, and by next year, they will understand just how big this event really is.”

Back to 2011 Kentucky Speedway Articles.



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