Kentucky Speedway has never made anyone’s Top-10 NASCAR tracks list. It probably wouldn’t even make the Top-20 and there are only 22 tracks on the Cup Schedule. Unfortunately for the Bluegrass state, Kentucky Speedway won’t be showing up on many lists other than “forgotten about NASCAR tracks” starting in 2021.
On Wednesday, NASCAR is expected to announce Kentucky Speedway’s NASCAR dates will be moved to Atlanta Motor Speedway. With that move, NASCAR and Speedway Motorsports Incorporated have essentially killed Kentucky Speedway.
After 10 years of NASCAR Cup Series races, the track will remain dormant in 2021. The infield lined with UPS and Amazon trailers rather than NASCAR haulers and RVs. The speedway will be a gigantic storing facility.
Kentucky Wasn’t Great But It Was Ours
Having grown up in Cincinnati the idea of a NASCAR track being built 45-60 minutes from me as a kid was exhilarating. Another race track within reasonable driving distance that I could easily talk my dad into going to. It was huge.
We were there for that first Busch Series race in 2001 and saw Kevin Harvick win. I was there to see David Gilliland shock the world in 2006 when he drove the #84 car to victory lane. We watched Scott Sharp beat Vitor Meira by .078 seconds in 2005. And in more recent years we watched Kurt Busch hold off his brother in 2019.
Kentucky has never been spectacular but it always had life. The 70,000 fans that packed the stands for a Busch Series race in the 2000s brought that place to life. For comparison, the Daytona 500 draws 101,000 these days. It was the electric, the stands coming together as one to cheer for Gilliland. You won’t meet more hospitable people than the ones at Kentucky Speedway.
Born in the boom of NASCAR, Kentucky was destined to fail sooner or later. Track founder Jerry Carol was a renegade of sorts. He wasn’t part of ISC or SMI, he refused to sell for the longest time and even sued NASCAR to get a date. Kentucky only got that coveted Cup Series date after Carroll sold out to SMI for half of what he built the track for.
From it’s poor layout to W shaped garage area, Kentucky Speedway was different than other tracks and not necessarily for the best. The garages were spread out and took up entirely too much of the infield. The track repave and reshaping of turns 3/4 ruined the track. The speedway’s inability to hold any other event of meaning was always going to be their downfall.
Ultimately Kentucky Speedway was built in a terrible location. Located nearly an hour from both Cincinnati and Lousiville it wasn’t close enough to either city to draw events outside of NASCAR. A music festival was planned but cancelled do to low ticket sales. The 1/4 track on the front stretch has never seen any action. What could be a fun weekly summer series never came to fruition. There was never an opportunity to build up the area around the speedway like Kansas did because of the location.
Some better marketing around both Cincinnati and Louisville would have helped but in the end the location of the track was too poor to overcome. Hell, even Racers went out of business. If you’ve been to Kentucky you know of Racers.
I’ll miss the long drive down I-75 to I-71, cresting the rolling hills on the way to speedway was always enjoyable. Stopping on a gas station before you get to the track and seeing other race fans. Checking in at the media trailer or finding my seat with my dad and brother. Sure the racing was never great but it was the memories that came from those trips to the track.
I won’t miss the brutally hot July days before the sunset. Standing on the asphalt in the garage area was nearly heat stroke inducing. Guessing if there would be a rainstorm was always fun. And the massive traffic issues that backed traffic up for hours in 2011.
Kentucky was never great and we would never say it was great but it was ours.