Address: Kentucky Speedway, 1 Speedway Drive, Sparta, KY, 41086, USA
PH: +1 859 567 3400
Circuit type: Permanent oval course
Kentucky Speedway is a modern 1.5 mile speedway at Sparta, Kentucky, which has seen more than its fair share of controversy during its short life, but is now settling into its second decade under Speedway Motorsports ownership.
In January 1998, a consortium comprising comprised of Jerry Carroll (Carroll Properties), Dick Duchossois (Chamberlain Industries), Richard Farmer (Cintas Corp.), John Lindahl (State Industries) and Outback Steakhouse, Inc announced plans for a 66,089-capacity speedway costing $158 million.
A special ceremony in July saw ground breaking begin on the biggest excavation project in Kentucky history, requiring some 7.2 million cubic yards of earth to be moved. The facility was constructed with 48,000 cubic yards of concrete, the equivalent of a 50-storey building.
As construction continued, the speedway announced deals to host the ARCA stock car series as its opening event in 2000, followed quickly by the Indy Racing League. In November 1999, it was announced that it would also hold a NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series event during 2000.
As the circuit was nearing completion, it was decided to resurface the track because of bumps which has emerged as the surface weathered through the winter.
By summer 2000, the circuit was ready and opened on June 16 with a NASCAR regional race, Billy Bigley, Jr., emerging as the first race winner in the track's history. One day later, the speedway held its first major series, the Craftsman Truck Series, which was won by Greg Biffle. In August of the same year, Buddy Lazier won the inaugural IndyCar Series race.
On August 29, 2000, NASCAR announced that Kentucky Speedway would also sanction a Busch Series (now Nationwide Series) race in 2001. One year after the speedway opened, it held its first Busch Series event, with Kevin Harvick emerging as the winner.
Over the next few years, Kentucky consolidated its position on the Indycar and second-tier stock car scene and earned an unusual distinction in being the venue for a number of 'firsts' for female drivers. It was at Kentucky in 2002 that Sarah Fisher became the first woman to earn the pole award for a major North American open-wheel event. Her qualifying lap record of 221.390 mph remains as the all-time fastest at the facility.
Continuing the theme, Danica Patrick earned pole for the 2005 Indycar event, having been awarded the top spot on the basis of combined practice times when traditional qualifying was rained out. She clicked off her best practice lap at 217.516 mph. Finally, in 2010, Firestone Indy Lights driver Pippa Mann became the first female competitor to earn a Kentucky Speedway victory by leading all 67 of a 100-lap event.
In 2005, Carroll began pushing for a top tier NASCAR Cup race, but found little interest from the series organisers. In response Kentucky Speedway filed an anti-trust lawsuit against NASCAR and the International Speedway Corporation (ISC). The suit alleged that the two organisations had colluded to illegally restricted the award of races to non-ISC like Kentucky, in violation of federal laws. By any standards this was an unusual tactic to gain favour with the governing body!
The case dragged on for a number of years before concluding in January 2008 with Judge William O. Bertelsman dismissing the trial with ISC and NASCAR winning the lawsuit. Various appeals and counter-suits against Carroll from the other investors were eventually settled in 2010.
In the midst of the court cases, the Speedway was purchased by Bruton Smith's Speedway Motorsport company. Under Smith's tenure, a $50 million renovation was undertaken at the end of the 2010 season. This saw the construction of two new 20,000-seat grandstands, expanding the venue's capacity to 107,000, while 200 acres of camping was also added. The pit lane was also moved closer to the grandstands to give spectators a better view of the action.
The changes were completed in anticipation of the much sought-after NASCAR race, which was finally achieved when Bruton transferred a race from another of his tracks. The inaugural Quaker State 400 was held on July 9, 2011 and was won by Kyle Busch, but the race was not without its own controversies. Huge traffic jams built up outside the venue, tailing back onto I-71, when the event proved far more popular than the circuit organisation could cope with. Some 20,000 spectators were unable to gain entry and by halfway through the race, those still queueing for entry were told to turn round and go home to ease the egress of those trying to leave the track.
In response, Speedway Motorsports bought purchased land near the speedway for parking and began to work with the state government to improve traffic plans in time for the 2012 race. Fans who had been unable to get it in were offered free tickets at Speedway Motorsports' other tracks for the rest of the season, or the 2012 Quaker State 400. Subsequent year's events have passed without significant incident.
The track is located at Sparta, Kentucky, midway between Louisville and Cincinnati. The nearest international airports are Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, 37 miles/36 minutes drive to the north and Louisville International Airport, 67 miles/60 minutes to the south.
The circuit is located alongside I-71. From the north/Cincinnatti, take exit 57 onto KY-37 and follow signs to the track. From the south/Louisville, take exit 55 onto KY 1039 and follow signs to the track. On NASCAR weekends, traffic is busiest in the four hours leading up to the race, so allow additional travelling time.