_Editor’s Note: The following is the transcript from NASCAR President Mike Helton’s press conference from New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Helton specifically addressed the traffic issues from Kentucky Speedway last week, along with possible solutions to fix those problems going forward._
*THE MODERATOR:* Good morning, everyone. Welcome to New Hampshire Motor Speedway. As most of you are aware, there’s been a lot of discussion over the last week about last week’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Kentucky Speedway. In an effort to address the situation early and get ahead of it and focus on the racing here this weekend, we’d like to welcome NASCAR president Mike Helton who will make a few opening remarks and then we’ll take some questions from the media.
I’ll turn it over to Mike Helton.
*MIKE HELTON:* Thank you.
I want to make sure that it doesn’t get lost in all this talk about traffic. We were very pleased and excited about the overall support that fans showed the inaugural Sprint Cup race in Kentucky last week. It was impressive. Don’t want that to get overshadowed.
We wanted to address this topic early today and assure folks that as we go through the balance of the season, particularly starting with this weekend in New Hampshire, that this topic doesn’t get lost in the shuffle.
We take what happened last weekend very seriously. Immediately conversations opened up between NASCAR, the track, Speedway Motorsports, from the highest of levels on the NASCAR side and the highest of levels on Speedway Motorsports side, Jim France, Brian France, Lisa Kennedy, Bruton Smith, Marcus, everybody is engaged in this topic. The intent is to find out exactly what happened so that a cure or fix can be determined. We will not rest until we have figured that out.
As you know, we’re in that time of year when we are working on the next season’s calendar, so the timing of this is very important.
It was very unfortunate that it happened. We’re sorry for the fans that were touched by that unfortunate episode. We will not let this fall to the wayside until we get resolution to it.
So with that, we’ll open it up for questions.
*Q. What role does NASCAR play in making sure everything is okay at a track? Did you see this coming at all?*
*MIKE HELTON:* Well, NASCAR is unique to other sports in that the NASCAR model works by the independent relationships between NASCAR as a sanctioning body, the tracks as the hosts of the events, and the teams and drivers being the competitors. We all work together to put the events and the season on. There’s responsibility in each group’s world that needs to happen correctly to make the events go smoothly.
In advance of the inaugural Sprint Cup race in Kentucky, there were a lot of meetings at the racetrack, inside the organizations, but even with the racetrack and with NASCAR in preparation for the inaugural Sprint Cup race.
I’ll remind everybody that NASCAR had been racing at Kentucky Motor Speedway for several years with Nationwide and Trucks, so it’s not like a brand-new construction or a brand-new location in general, but it was the inaugural Sprint Cup race, which in some regards takes it to a different level. There were a lot of planning meetings, a lot of sessions that took place.
Our role in those is to have dialogue and have some types of assurances that the promoters of the event are experienced and are on the right track.
When Speedway Motorsports bought Kentucky Motor Speedway, obviously that facility inherited a lot of experience. Speedway Motorsports has a lot of experience promoting races and has shown over their history that they have the ability to host Cup races. The planning for this inaugural event there tracked true to the course.
What was happening was a lot of construction, a lot of new work, some of which took place after the ownership change before we went back for Nationwide and Truck races last year. But a lot happened between those last races and this inaugural race for the Sprint Cup. We tracked those along the way.
That kind of is a reliance by the NASCAR community on the promoter to host the events. There was a lot of planning that was exhibited to us and to fans. I know on one trip up there myself, in the lobby of the office complex, there was material there that showed very well thought out, very nice, presentable piece, full color page of the traffic ingress, and then there was another page of traffic egress that was, according to the track folks, being mailed to the ticket buyers and was available to everybody to pick up.
… I think we have an interest in is in finding out exactly what happened Saturday night. I think part of what we want to know now is, was that plan followed correctly or what might have interfered with the preparation that went into the event that caused what happened.
*Q. You mentioned that you had seen the traffic plan that was available. What about the parking situation there? Any early indications that that might have been the primary culprit? Any theories of what might have been the main cause of what happened?*
*MIKE HELTON:* Well, I don’t want to jump ahead of us finding out the facts and speculate.
What we do know, and I think it was obvious to everybody, there was a lot of work done at the racetrack prior to the Cup race moving in last weekend, not just on the racing surface, but in the parking lots. There was a lot of earth being moved out there in preparation to accommodate the Sprint Cup weekend.
How all that came together last Friday and Saturday is what we have an interest in finding out.
*Q. You talk about this as the time where you’re talking about sanctions for next year. Are you confident that Kentucky will have a Cup race next year or is that in question?*
*MIKE HELTON:* I don’t want to speculate on that type of thing. I can’t help but think, you look at the history of our sport, we’ve had issues that happen, and we generally figure out how to work through them.
I think what we’re after right now is to figure out what happened in Sparta and figure out what the cure is for it. Outside of that, I don’t have an opinion at this point. But we’re working toward a resolution.
*Q. Mike, several people have proffered explanations or comparisons, talking about the first race at Texas and so forth. Is it fair to say that what transpired at Kentucky last weekend went beyond opening-night snafus? Was it a bigger deal than something related to somebody’s first event? Seemed a little bit more widespread.*
*MIKE HELTON:* Well, I try not to offer opinions or speculate. There’s two things. One is we have had inaugural occurrences, like Texas and Vegas and others, that I wouldn’t define as acceptable, but we have had them as experience.
The other point is that this was not our first race at Kentucky Motor Speedway. We have had several years of Nationwide and Truck races there. I grant you the physical layout of the surrounding area outside the racetrack was under significant changes.
So what I think we have an interest in is in finding out exactly what happened Saturday night, did all those changes contribute to that and did it really maybe compound the situation. Was there overconfidence from the fact they had raced there for 10 years and not taken in full consideration of the physical changes that were taking place. Those are the kind of questions we’ll have to get to the bottom of to figure out the solution.
*Q. This is about fan expectations and experience. It’s not analogous to Indy’s tire issues. But when fans get disappointed, we’ve seen a drop-off of attendance at Indy that may or may not be related to the tire issues of a couple years back. How much influence does NASCAR have on the tracks to make sure the fans are satisfied, whether it be a refund, other tickets, to make sure the fans keep coming back?*
*MIKE HELTON:* Well, I think we all – when I say “we all” I’m talking about NASCAR, teams, tracks – we all work together in a unified goal of delivering a very appealing product for fans. On occasion, you have interruptions to that. I think the interruptions are all unique as to what impact they may have. But I know that we all work on a common goal of making the experience for race fans and the appealing part of what we do for race fans paramount.
Along the way, we have hiccups. But then we need to collectively get together and figure it out so we can press on.
*Q. This is a political issue in Kentucky, too. Have you talked to the governor or politicians? It’s a black eye on Kentucky as well as NASCAR.*
*MIKE HELTON:* I’ve not had any conversations with any public officials since the Saturday afternoon.
*Q. Back to Kentucky for a second. Obviously the problems with the traffic and parking. What kind of public transportation options were there? What do you think might be the future of public transportation for that venue?*
*MIKE HELTON:* I couldn’t sit here and tell you today exactly what was available for that venue. I think some of that will come out as we ask questions of the facility.
As to what might be available going forward, our reliance is on the track to figure those things out because they’re the host of the event. If that’s part of the answer, then I suspect that we’ll figure that out. But I couldn’t sit here today and tell you what was available or what might be available.
*Q. You have one other event at Kentucky coming up later this Fall: the Truck race along with the IndyCar. Will you be paying any attention? Are there things you think they may implement or test perhaps that weekend that you’ll be keeping an eye on?*
*MIKE HELTON:* I think it’s a good opportunity to try stuff.
*Q. There’s been some sense among the national media and fans that NASCAR is picking up steam in ratings. How much does the glitch at Kentucky affect that just when everything was starting to roll in a positive direction? How much impact do you think it will have?*
*MIKE HELTON:* Well, I’d like to think that we overcome the glitch in Kentucky and that what happened on the racetrack in Kentucky, the teams and the drivers delivered on their end, and they will this weekend. So we go on.
We certainly take what happened on the highways trying to get into Kentucky as a very serious issue that we intend to correct. But I think what’s happening on the racetrack helps us maintain that momentum that you speak of.