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Sunday, July 10, 2011

Reflections on the Inaugural Quaker State 400 from Kentucky Speedway

I understand that many people had a very difficult time with the traffic and parking situation, that many felt the race was boring, and that the event was a major fail on the part of Kentucky Speedway, Bruton Smith, and/or NASCAR. I will say that I have been a race fan all my life and other than the tire debacle at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway a couple years back I do not remember the fans complaining this much about any race. From comments made through the media, by drivers and fans on Twitter, and Kentucky Speedway it looks as if this was much worse than the 2008 Brickyard 400.

Coming into Saturday everyone should have already been aware that traffic was going to be an issue; the same backups occurred Friday night for the Nationwide race and Thursday night's Camping World Truck Series event. Once I found I was going to the race – I did not find out until late Friday evening – the first thing I did was plan a route that did not involve I-71. I hit KY -39 at the Indiana Kentucky state line and took KY-42 to KY-35. It took a total of three hours to make the trip and get parked. Google Maps estimated two hours and 22 minutes. I was one of the few who did not have issues with traffic going in.

I think my parking space was right at a mile from the track. Looking back, I would have been closer if I had paid $20 to park at the unofficial campground just north and east of the track off of KY-35. For those of you who have been to Kentucky Speedway, I had to park up the hill and way behind the Sunoco tank north of the track. Come to think of it, I was up two hills and in the middle of a field that shows as still wooded area if you look at the speedway on Google Maps. I am glad it did not rain – I am not positive my Chevrolet Cobalt would have made it out had it been muddy. Bottom line is that I did not get stuck and the parking at the Speedway is free – free is good.

Once we made it into the track things could not have been better up to race time. My son & I had pit and garage passes and were able to watch pre-race inspections, car preparation, pit set-up, we shook hands, high-fived, or otherwise said hi to about half the field, their crews, crew chiefs, and owners and there was always a track official nearby if a question came up. Concessions and restroom facilities in the garage area were more than adequate. Three trips to concessions for drinks and food resulted in no long waits and restroom lines were short.

The only item I would add to the garage and pit areas would be better signage to direct fans to the tunnel that takes them from the garage area to the grandstands. That tunnel is marked with a sign that simply says “Escalators.” A sign indicating “Tunnel to Stands” might be a bit more helpful. Also, security in the tunnel and escalator area might need improvement. There was one guard in the tunnel, in a chair, taking a nap. No kidding.

Rows in the grandstands could be better marked. Coming into the lower level stands one is coming from the top and walking down the concrete steps. The row numbers are painted as such that those numbers cannot be seen unless one is walking up the steps. The views are great. We were in the 28th row and could see all of the track. Any lower and I think we would have lost some of the backstretch and the cars as they passed beneath us but from the 28th row up a person will not miss a thing on the track or in the pits.

I enjoyed the race. I see a lot of people online who are saying they thought it was boring and awful but I have to disagree. Of course I have never seen a bad race, neither on TV or in person. So although the race on TV might have been rather dull for some and even for some who were at the track I found no time that I did not have something to hold my interest on the track or in the pits. I also had an HD Radio and ear buds on me so I was able to hear the radio commentators. The same was being played over the speedway loudspeaker system but with the cars running under green flag conditions it could not be heard in the stands.

The only real negative from our experiences was the concession stand areas in our part of the stands were severely inadequate. My son went to get drinks and a hot dog at one point. He came back after 30 minutes empty handed. He said he had been in line the whole time and had only made it a quarter of the way to the front of the line. Others sitting around us had similar experiences when making trips to the concessions. In the end we never got any food or drinks after the race started because of the lines throughout the race. We cleared out about 10 seconds after Kyle Busch took the Checkers and headed to the parking lot.

Up the hills, through the field, and the car should be about After the sun goes down the back parking lot is a bit on the dark side. The ruts from previous vehicles causes walking to be fairly treacherous and the darkness makes it hard to find one's car in the thousands that are out there. We had to backtrack and there was my car, right where I thought it was. It was so dark I had literally walked right by it the first time.

I hear from many that getting out of Kentucky Speedway last night was as bad as getting in. Again, I avoided I-71 and had no issues leaving the area. Yes, it took some time and at one point I was passed by a man in a motorized wheelchair but it was not as bad as many races have been in my experience. I was directed west out of the parking area and took a right at the top of the hill; it took about 45 minutes to get that far. Once I made the right onto KY-1039 I was back in Indiana in no time. The trip home, in total took about three and a half hours from the time we got the the car.

Thinking back to the Inaugural running of the Brickyard 400 in 1994, I lived 3.3 miles from Indianapolis Motor Speedway at the time and it took me three and a half hours to get home. The traffic coming out of IMS that day averaged less than one mile and hour. The first time a city hosts a full weekend event the number of attendees generally greatly exceeds expectations. Kentucky Speedway and the fans, crew, and drivers in attendance experienced that firsthand yesterday. As IMS had in 1994, Kentucky Speedway has many opportunities for improvement before next year; I hope that fans will return to give them another chance.

Lessons learned from the Inaugural running of the Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway include avoid I-71 if at all possible, wear good shoes, take your own snacks, and break out as soon as the checkers fly. Lessons that Kentucky Speedway should learn include that they need more roads that lead to the speedway, more restroom facilities in the parking areas, better signage for fan directions. Also, they might consider adding more speakers for the stands areas, more concession staff and more concessions outlets, more parking, paved parking access roads, and better lighting in remote parking areas.

I think the biggest need for the facility is to add additional parking on the back side of the speedway. Adding additional roadways on the back side that lead to more parking will offer more area for traffic to disperse and reduce congestion coming into and leaving the track. I know I am in the minority but overall, for the Inaugural running of the Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway I would grade the event as a low B. We had a great day, the weather was beautiful, and although many did not, we enjoyed the day from beginning to end. I can't wait to do it again next year...

Amy McHargue has followed various forms of auto racing since she was a child. She was born and raised in southern Indiana, where she still resides with her son, cat, and Doberman-Jack Russell Terrier mix. Amy makes attempts to get to the track as often as possible, currently works for a self-publishing organization, and recently graduated college with a Bachelor Degree in Organizational Security. In addition to her blog she is a contributor at Amy can be reached by email at or at