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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