My Town Monday Cincinnati: Kentucky Speedway

KYTower1-lgThere are three things Cincinnatians love in sports: Baseball, college basketball, and NASCAR. The Reds, of course, solidified their place in baseball history with the Big Red Machine of the 1970’s. For college hoops, the city hosts the University of Cincinnati and Xavier, with nearby Miami of Ohio up in Oxford and a sizeable University of Kentucky following across the river in Northern Kentucky. NASCAR…?

For the longest time, Cincinnati had a big NASCAR following, but no NASCAR events. Humiliating. Cleveland has had a friggin’ Grand Prix since the early 1980’s. (I know. I used to watch it when I was a teenager.) Even Mansfield, more famous for its state penitentiary and its toilet factories than anything else, had more auto racing than Cincinnati.

Then in 1998, Turfway owner Jerry Carroll began construction on a plot of land in Sparta, Kentucky, across the river from the current site of Belterra Casino. The result was Kentucky Speedway. It immediately attracted some minor NASCAR races, an Indy Racing League event, and truck races. But no Sprint Cup.

Part of the problem was the Speedway’s inauspicious start. After the first race, the surrounding parking area turned into a mud pit. Not a good impression to make on the racing public. The Speedway quickly paved over the parking area and expanded it. The race itself nonetheless convinced NASCAR to sanction a Busch (now Nationwide) Cup event.

But no Sprint Cup. Ownership pushed. They sued. Then they sold to another raceway owner, one who already hosted two Sprint Cup events. After all the dust settled, NASCAR sanctioned the Quaker State 400 this year, bringing NASCAR’s premier racing series to Northern Kentucky. So how’d it go?

Kyle Busch won. And Speedway and state officials realized the traffic problems weren’t all gone. So now Kentucky is reworking the exits and roads around the Speedway, and once again, parking is being expanded.

More at the My Town Monday blog.