Kentucky Speedway: A postmortem

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We knew big changes were coming to the NASCAR schedule in 2021. The news that Chicagoland Speedway and Kentucky Speedway fell off the schedule, however, surprised us all.

When the news broke on September 29, then made official September 30, many rejoiced.

“None of the dropped tracks or race dates should cause fans to shed tears,” Jordan Bianchi of The Athletic said. “Their absence from the schedule is a positive; they represent some of the most maligned venues in NASCAR.”

For the most part, I agree. But I’m not here to dance on Kentucky’s grave.

FULL DISCLOSURE: Part of it’s because I don’t want to be denied credentials down the road, if Kentucky ever returns to the NASCAR Cup Series. I’ve made that mistake before, and I won’t do it again.

But I’m here, mostly, because I have too many fond memories tied to that parcel of land in Sparta, Kentucky.

I camped in my dad’s Hummer overnight in one of the campgrounds, after I convinced him to stay for the rain-delayed Cup Series race in 2013. I covered one of my first race weekends on-site at Kentucky in 2016 and caught my first Pokemon in the deadline room in Pokemon GO (it was an Eevee).

In that same room a few months later, I watched my Tennessee Volunteers score 38 unanswered points to beat the Florida Gators for the first time since 2004.

In 2017, I sat in the press conference room and heard Matt Kenseth say he didn’t think he’d return to Joe Gibbs Racing in 2018.

This past July, I drove up to Kentucky Speedway to work my first NASCAR weekend, on-site, in over two years.

With that said, however, I’ve also made my share of critical remarks about Kentucky in the past.

The layout of the amenities at Kentucky are subpar. The deadline room is at the far end of the building in the middle of the track, away from pit road. The garages are also situated far away from pit road. The pedestrian tunnel is in the middle of the track, which makes the walk from the infield to the stands and press box incredibly long.

Also, the track is in a remote part of Kentucky. Sure, it’s next to Interstate 71, but it’s an hour to Lexington and 45 minutes Cincinnati.

Normally, that’s not a problem. But when the races there were always a night event, you’re getting back to your hotel at 2 or 3 a.m. And that’s if the traffic cooperates.

The traffic flow exiting the track is some of the worst I’ve experienced covering NASCAR. I’ve lost count of the number of backups I sat through on I-71, leaving the track. And I don’t mean right after the checkered flag. I mean hours after the race ended, there’s still a backup.

Ingress and egress has been a problem for Cup races at Kentucky since the beginning. It never recovered from the traffic debacle of it’s first race in 2011.

Yes, I know this me complaining as someone who gets paid to go to the race track. But I also had these same complaints about Kentucky when I went there once as a race fan.

But like I said, I’m not here to dance on Kentucky’s grave. I’ll leave it with this.

If Kentucky Speedway returns to the Cup Series down the road, it needs to update its facilities. Maybe move the pedestrian tunnel closer to Turn 1 or Turn 4. Build new garages that are closer to the pits and make it and the garage area more fan-accessible, like Daytona, Phoenix, Richmond and Talladega have done.

Furthermore, work with the state of Kentucky to improve roadway access, both near Sparta Pike and I-71.

If this is the end for Kentucky Speedway, however, then farewell. In a different time, maybe it could’ve lasted.