Race Weekend Central

Shakedown Session: Kentucky’s Long Road To A Sprint Cup Race

At one point, it was safe to say the odds of Kentucky Speedway getting a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series date were little more than a pipe dream, at best. But after 13 years of waiting, the people of “The Bluegrass State” will be witnesses to a different type of “horsepower” than the state of Kentucky is known for when the Sprint Cup Series makes its long-awaited debut at the 1.5 mile oval for the Quaker State 400. Thanks to the vision of Jerry Carroll in the early days to build the speedway, and now the visionary Bruton Smith, now Kentucky has what it has always wanted: A NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race.

The dream began back in 1998 when Jerry Carroll and four other investors announced plans to build a 1.5 mile super-speedway in rural Sparta, Kentucky, in-between Cincinnati and Louisville. After a year of construction, the speedway opened with Bill Baird doing ARCA testing at the track. In 2000, the track opened for racing with a Slim Jim All-Pro Series and IRL race weekend. Later in the year, ARCA and the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series came to the facility for the very first time. One year later, the NASCAR Busch Series followed suit with Kevin Harvick winning the inaugural race.

Back in 2002, the track saw its first serious injury occur when Jason Priestley (of “Beverly Hills 90210” fame) crashed during an Indy Lights (then known as the Infiniti Pro Series) race, suffering a concussion and injuries to his thoratic spine and feet. B ack in 2006, the year of David Gilliland’s upset NASCAR Busch Series triumph, Jeff Fuller’s car spun into the Turn 2 infield, with the impact being so fierce that the entire car collapsed into itself, leaving Fuller injured and out of commission for several months.

Despite the injuries, the facility was proving to be a great investment as the Busch and Truck Series both drew excellent crowds and all seemed well for Kentucky. But there was one big thing that stood in the way of the track earning a Sprint Cup date it so desperately coveted. In 2005, Jerry Carroll and his ownership group filed an anti-trust lawsuit against NASCAR to try and force the sanctioning body to give the facility a Cup race. But three years later, the suit was dismissed with still no Cup date.

By then, Bruton Smith had taken over as track owner and had urged Carroll to drop the lawsuit, which he did. However, the other four investors sued Carroll, which caused two more years of agony and litigation for NASCAR fans in Kentucky to go through. Last year, the lawsuits against Carroll were finally settled and shortly afterwards, news came that the track would at long last receive its long-awaited Sprint Cup race. In preparation for the race, Smith boosted seating capacity from 66,000 to 107,000. The big question would be could Kentucky sell out its inaugural event with that significant of a seating capacity boost?

That was answered when the track went into an all-out media blitz, advertising for the track in several different markets, and that work paid off as nine days before the inaugural event, it was announced the Sprint Cup race was a sell-out, proving that Kentucky does deserve this date. So fans in the Bluegrass State should take pride in the fact that after 13 years, the Sprint Cup Series finally makes its long awaited debut at Kentucky Speedway. And these same fans need to take a moment to thank Jerry Carroll and Bruton Smith each for their efforts to get the track its first date. Hopes are high that this event will be a success and perhaps open the door for an eventual Sprint Cup race at Iowa. Will it be a success? Only time will tell.

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