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Bruton Smith playing unfamiliar role of bad guy after Kentucky debacle

By admin | July 13, 2011

By Richard Allen


In case you’ve been hiding under a rock, you may not be aware that this past weekend’s race in Kentucky did not go well on all fronts for race track conglomerate Speedway Motorsports, Inc. Traffic and other infrastructure debacles made for somewhat of a publicity nightmare for the company. Unlike other instances in which they have purchased or built race tracks and brought in big events that might have experienced initial problems, SMI is not being given any sort of a free pass from anyone.

When SMI opens(or buys) a facility and secures a Sprint Cup date for the track they are supposed to be the heroes. Other people, such as local and state political leaders, are supposed to take the blame for any problems that might arise during the initial weekend.

Often times, SMI Chairman O. Bruton Smith takes the opportunity to appear in front of microphones and television cameras to play the role of eccentric billionaire and offer the assembled media a few sound bites laced with criticisms for the local political leaders.

This time, however, things are working out differently. SMI and Smith are not being portrayed as heroes in the case of the debacle that was the recent racing weekend that was in Kentucky.

As has been well documented, the Kentucky Speedway hosted its first Sprint Cup race this past Saturday and the reviews were less than spectacular. As a matter of fact, the reviews by fans, media and competitors were down right nasty. However, that is not so different from previous instances in which this company has hosted a first big event at one of its facilities.

SMI had bought the Sparta, Kentucky venue in 2008 and hoped to eventually bring a Sprint Cup event to the track that had hosted the Camping World Truck series since 2000 and the Nationwide Series since 2001. The track has also held ARCA and IndyCar races throughout its history.

After buying the Kentucky track, SMI added seats so as to have adequate capacity for NASCAR’s top division. Trouble was, the surrounding infrastructure did not keep pace with the seating capacity. Access roads and parking space were woefully lacking as well as facilities for supplying basic needs such as restrooms and food supply.

Smith was apparently well aware of the possible issues the track would face when he joked during an early weekend press conference that he hoped fans would be off of the track property by Tuesday.

Typically, when the smoke has cleared from a problem filled first go around for one of these tracks, SMI has gotten a bit of a pass from fans and media and pressure has been applied to local and state governments to improve the surrounding infrastructure. And more often than not, when faced with the prospect of losing tax revenue as well as looking like the bad guy after having been hammered by a public relations blitz, the politicians consent to divert taxpayer funds to the race track in question.

However, this time around things are not working as they have in the past. SMI and Bruton Smith are being played as the bad guys as much or more than local politicians. Here is why I believe things have gone differently for the track owners.

First, the internet and social networking offered up a first hand description and view of the night’s debacle. Fans and media types kept everyone else updated throughout the evening via Twitter and Facebook. By the time the Quaker State 400 ended, a multitude of people knew of what had happened even with only brief mentions by television.

At the end of the day there were no secrets and SMI was receiving extreme criticism from fans who had sat in traffic for hours, been turned away from under stocked concession stands and stood in long lines to use inadequate rest rooms.

During a pre-race show on the Speed television network, Smith(wearing a ridiculous Security hat) had declared that he was not on Twitter because he worked for a living. Well, on this night, Twitter certainly exposed that he had not worked very well leading up to this event.

Other issues to hurt SMI’s cause in this instance are the fact that NASCAR does not have the popularity it once did and thus doesn’t command the same clout as it once did. And perhaps even more damning for the opening of Kentucky Speedway is the fact that this track was not new as races had been held here for eleven years.

The bottom line is that Speedway Motorsports and Bruton Smith are used to having situations like this work out in their favor. This time, however, it appears as though much of the blame is being placed squarely on the track owners rather than local officials as a number of factors have changed since the first Sprint Cup race was run at Texas.

Bruton Smith may actually find himself having to take away from the bottom line to improve his image within the community in which he planned on playing role of the hero.

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9 Responses to “Bruton Smith playing unfamiliar role of bad guy after Kentucky debacle”

  1. cliff Says:
    July 13th, 2011 at 10:36 pm

    Rich it’s the firsttime at Kentucky..Bruton did said it will be widen and 180 acres plus for parking…Bruton will make it better and has the capitol todo so..i went too Bristol for the firstime for me was great not many fans in the stands..i looked at kentucy saying bad in bad out..i waited 4 hours in a limo too get out of darlington and we had prime parking..when ya goto a NASCAR race expect along day

  2. Charles Says:
    July 14th, 2011 at 6:15 am


    The honeymoon may have ended early for the Kentucky Track!

    With all the hype for the first race at the track, problems like this should have been fixed a little earlier!!!! Its not the first time they have raced at Kentucky!

    But I aplaud Smith for atleast trying to help fans by giving free tickets to other events at his tracks!

    Nascar didnt do much at the Indy race when they had tire problems and all the competition cautions few years back, they should have refunded money or tickets as well!

    Richard you said onetime that younger fans attention span is shorter as thus need shorter races, well setting in traffic for 4 hours will do nothing to keep them coming, and the Kentucky races new found excitement could be short lived like Indy and Bruton may not have to improve the roads or build a airport after all!!!

  3. Bill B Says:
    July 14th, 2011 at 6:43 am

    Bruton used the fans a pawns to attempt to force the state of Kentucky to make millions of dollars of infrastructure improvements that he doesn’t want to pay for.
    He isn’t fooling anyone. Most are seeing it for what it was. That’s why people are blaming him above all.

  4. Sue Rarick Says:
    July 14th, 2011 at 6:47 am

    One of the problems is Bruton got caught up in some of his own lies.

    1. There is only one highway exit: Actually there are two just like there is at Talladega.
    2. The state prohibits coolers: Actually the state prohibits coolers containing alchol. Regular coolers are permitted.

    The Internet also showed how similar Kentucky is to Talledega in access. The same type roads and as mentioned the same number of highway exits. The difference was that Kentucky only used one emtrance and even that was half the size of the one used at Talladega (which uses more than one). It literally was a bottleneck situation.

    I agree that you need to expect a pretty long wait to get into any NASCAR race. In fact the only time I ever drove directly into a race track was during Talladega’s donate and drive this past Spring.

    The on site logistics were predictible yet Bruton decided to ignore them. He knew there were going to be a bottle neck yet made no plan to make sure he had adequet staff on hand. Temp. sleeping arrangements and catered food for staff the night before would have gone a long way to improve services. The long lines and overflowing toilet facilities is just unexcuseable.

    The last farce like this was at Indy and they basically have lost around 40% of their clients/customers. And the location of the track is great, but it is also located in an area that has a number of options. Here in Nashville it’s the closest track, but Bristol and Indy and Talladega aren’t all that far away. So which one would a fan choose right now?

  5. jerseygirl Says:
    July 14th, 2011 at 11:49 am

    Unfamiliar role for Bruton? Huh, I don’t think so. I’ve talked to people who work for him and been to tracks that he’s owned. they seem real familiar with him being the bad guy on a fairly regular basis.

    Sure, traffic is often an issue at NASCAR races, but better proper prior planning would have helped with the parking and traffic control. Also, banning coolers in the heat of the summer? That’s a dumb idea as well as being greedy - esp when it turns out that they had the regulation wrong.

    Personally I always check the track website before I buy tickets - no coolers allowed and we don’t buy tickets. We don’t drink a lot of beer at races but having your own water, iced tea and other soft drinks AND food - is a must for us.

    I sincerely hope that the state of KY doesn’t buckle under Bruton’s obviously contrived method of getting funding for access to this track. Sounds like KY is broke like so many other states (including NJ) so why should the taxpayer have to fund it.

    SMI should refund the money to people who had tickets and were turned away, too.

  6. Keith Says:
    July 14th, 2011 at 12:53 pm

    This debacle falls on Bruton and Bruton alone he moved a race to a track that was not up to par. How many times has he ran events at any of his tracks he should have known better or he knew and did not care. Nascar should pull the date from Kentucky until they have all the problems repaired then he should be allowed to have a cup race there. If this happens again next season then the blame should be placed on Nascar’s shoulders.

  7. Charles Says:
    July 14th, 2011 at 1:29 pm

    Jersey Girl raised a good point about not being able to bring coolers!!

    Like I said before I have been going to Nascar races since the 60s, if there was another area that could be improved is concessions!

    Went to Darlington just this past year the consession or food stand was just awful!

    I mean you pay over $5.00 for a self-service hot dog, not to mention you get no chilli, they will put slaw thats amost frozen on it, you have to get the relish or mustard or catchup along with the blow flys that surround the area! Not to mention if you buy a drink and hot dog you will have to fork out almost $8.00 bucks!

    Martinsville does do a better job, but at all the tracks I have been to if they would atleast offer better and more variety food and not at a high price, then a lot of fans would not have to bring coolers!

    Nascar talks about being “fan freindly” this is something that would be a easy fix!! Lots of fans carry a family and very busy schedule and would much rather have something good that they dont have to go to trouble to pack all these foods, but the reason they do is because consessions at Nascar are to pricely for one, and not good for the most part except for just a few tracks!

    I dont see why say Kentucky Fried Chicken, Hardees, McDonalds and others cannot be involved in serving a badly underserved market!

  8. old97fan Says:
    July 14th, 2011 at 1:38 pm

    The reason Bruton has gotten a pass in the past is because the media has played playground politics with his greedy ineptitude. This isn’t the first time a Bruton inaugural has had THESE VERY PROBLEMS! Not to mention the other ongoing issues at his other tracks. Yet the media, up until this time always played along and let him blame the local authorities or someone else. The point you make about the difference being social networking was right on. For once, we didn’t have the media’s usual love fest with a power broker defining the news. Man, I miss David Poole.

  9. Dave Marker Says:
    July 18th, 2011 at 10:42 pm

    Bruton is getting heat for a few reasons not the least of which is that he is coming off incredibly arrogant with little sympathy for the people that bought the tickets and were turned away. He has some really wonderful PR guys running his tracks and, obviously, has not taken any of their seasoned advice. To be honest with you, I am not sure if they are afraid of giving him advice. Bruton has failed every test in how to manage a crisis. He really showed his ass on this one and, if NASCAR has the guts, they will take a race away from him and show him that he is not bigger than the sport.