Blog Entry

Idle Thoughts: Kentucky fiasco tough to overcome

Posted on: July 12, 2011 1:35 pm
Edited on: July 12, 2011 8:21 pm
By Pete Pistone

Thirty-two years ago tonight one of the sports world’s most infamous events took place on the south side of Chicago. 

“Disco Demolition,” a local radio promotion held between games of a White Sox-Tigers doubleheader, encouraged fans to bring their disco albums and records to the historic old ballpark to be blown up in a ceremony overseen by popular local disc jockey Steve Dahl. 

Team management hoped for a crowd of 12,000 but instead a raucous turnout of more than 90,000 converged on the stadium literally overrunning the area. By the time Dahl got around to blowing up the pile of records that were accumulated in center field, the affair turned ugly with fans running onto the field and tearing up sod, bases and even seats. 

The mess caused Major League Baseball to call off the second game due to unsafe playing conditions and the White Sox were forced to forfeit the game in a night that has left an ugly stain on the franchise to this day. 

NASCAR had its version of “Disco Demolition” Saturday night in Kentucky and like the baseball edition; the debacle has given the sport a black eye that won’t be forgotten any time soon. 

What was supposed to be Kentucky Speedway’s long awaited moment in the sun for its inaugural Sprint Cup Series race was a disaster with traffic nightmares, parking problems, empty concession stands and limited bathroom facilities just a few of the inconveniences the crowd of 110,000 had to contend with over the weekend. 

Simply put the track was not prepared to host an event - or crowd - the size of what showed up on Saturday.

To compound matters the slow response to the disaster and perceived arrogance by Speedway Motorsports Inc. president Bruton Smith, who pointed the finger at local government for not providing necessary infrastructure and support, has not done much in the way to appease fans or help the overall image of the sport. 

And before the track finally did release an official apology as well as plan to give replacement tickets to fans at future SMI races or next year’s Quaker State 400, other speedway operators jumped into the fray. 

Indianapolis Motor Speedway, less than a two-hour drive from Kentucky, offered disgruntled fans a discount on seats for its upcoming Brickyard 400. Talladega Superspeedway communicated to fans that the track was more than well prepared to handle the 100,000 expected to attend this October’s Sprint Cup race. 

And Michigan International Speedway president Roger Curtis distributed a passionate letter to fans saying he was “saddened and embarrassed” by what happened at Kentucky and ensuring customers would be treated right at the upcoming August weekend in the Irish Hills. 

If you get a sense that perhaps there isn’t any love lost between Kentucky and some other track’s management teams you’re probably right. 

NASCAR’s insistence to not award a Sprint Cup date to Kentucky when the track was first built ten years ago was due in large part to the sanctioning body’s assessment of a potential oversaturation problem in the area. Michigan, Indianapolis, Chicago, Bristol and even Talladega are within relative close proximity to the Sparta, Kentucky facility and in NASCAR’s mind a Cup date would possibly cannibalize ticket sales from tracks already on the schedule. 

However it became a moot point when SMI purchased Kentucky and petitioned NASCAR through its realignment policy to move a date from Atlanta. 

On paper the decision was a winner for SMI, at least in the short term, as the 110,000 tickets sold for the inaugural race eclipsed what Atlanta’s last March race drew by about 35,000. But those 110k had to come from somewhere and certainly there’s a real possibility more than a few came at the expense of Indy, MIS, Bristol and others. 

So perhaps Kentucky’s failure on Saturday night struck a chord with other track officials who didn’t appreciate the potential of their ticket sales being siphoned off coupled with the souring of fans, who may now choose simply to not attend any NASCAR race for fear of a similarly bad experience. 

But is the sniping among peers really the best way to put the situation behind and help move the sport back into a better light?  I’m not sure NASCAR meant for its “Boys Have at It” mandate to spill over and include track operators. 

There are thousands of fans who are trying to decide if putting a NASCAR race on their social calendar is a worthwhile option for their already in short supply dollars. At this point the sport needs all the support it can get from inside the industry to put this embarrassment as far in the rear view mirror as possible. 

The reputation of “Disco Demolition” continues to live on more than three decades later. It remains to be seen whether the Kentucky fiasco is forever the track’s legacy or if over time it can be repaired and forgotten. 

Odds are it’s going to be a long road to recovery. 

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Since: May 24, 2009
Posted on: July 14, 2011 7:33 pm

Idle Thoughts: Kentucky fiasco tough to overcome

To those who think the "Kentucky Fiasco" means doom and gloom for the Track, I would point to the very first race season at the facility. There were parking woes due to navigating muddy fields to park, traffic issues due to the poor interstate access at the time, and general growing pains for a track opened without the help of the big time NASCAR players. All of which did nothing to dissuade the huge crowds from coming out for ANY race. Great attendance is the reason SMI bought the track, and decided to push for a NASCAR race. The entire region is a NASCAR stronghold and I guarantee next years race WILL sell out.

Since: Mar 15, 2008
Posted on: July 14, 2011 3:55 pm

Idle Thoughts: Kentucky fiasco tough to overcome

Nascar is without a doubt the worst managed of all sports (except maybe baseball).

God, these 'cookie cutter' tracks like Kentucky are so boring...the rating will keep falling until they figure out you cant have the exact same event every week and think people will keep watching or going.

Since: Jul 13, 2011
Posted on: July 13, 2011 9:12 pm

Idle Thoughts: Kentucky fiasco tough to overcome

Well, I'll bet dollars to donuts Kentucky will not sell out next year. 

My wife and I were there.  We went because it was the inaugural event.  As for the racing, it's like Michigan or California, boring.

Having said that, those tracks are great for the racers.  Luck plays a much lesser role, while talent to produce a fast car and talent behind the wheel are rewarded.  Usually, the best car/team wins.

But, while good for the racers, it doesn't make for exciting racing for the fans.  Cautions bunch up the field, give teams a chance to make adjustments several times.  That just doesn't normally happen at Michigan and California.  Looks like Kentucky will be more of the same.

This year, Kentucky was a novelty.  Next year it will be just another track on the schedule.  They'll be lucky to sell 70 percent of the seats next year.

Since: Mar 2, 2007
Posted on: July 13, 2011 8:47 pm

Idle Thoughts: Kentucky fiasco tough to overcome

Since: Jan 25, 2010
Posted on: July 13, 2011 3:55 pm

Idle Thoughts: Kentucky fiasco tough to overcome

Well its pretty obvious that these folks never went to Atlanta, Michigan, or Pocono in the eighties or nineties.  There traffic was horrible as well.  I was there Saturday night. The Speedway did a terrible job of managing the grounds BUT they did sell 107,000 seats.  If there was 20,000 folks who didn't get there, then they must have have sold 130,000 seats cause I don't know where they would have put them.

Regardless...I'm pretty confident that Bruton Smith will get it corrected.  The biggest problem I seen was there was only two ways to get into the track.  I'm a season ticket holder at Bristol, Richmond, and Homestead as well.  They all have more than two ways of getting into the track. 

The media needs to eat a snickers and quit being such drama queens.  It will get corrected and they will come closer to a sell out than most of the other tracks on the circuit.  You all need to thank Kentucky Speedway.  They have given you more fodder to right and talk about than all the other tracks combined this year...

I do wish there were more short tracks on the circuit.  My favorite track is Richmond.  They have eight gates to enter the grounds and have 90,000 seats.  Kentucky will figure that out.  As will the folks that come to the race. 

Since: Aug 22, 2006
Posted on: July 13, 2011 10:23 am

Idle Thoughts: Kentucky fiasco tough to overcome

I for one completely agree. I want less 1.5 mile tracks and more 1.0 miles or less tracks. Tracks were they can bump and run. Even Bristol has gotten very boring and it use to be my favorite track. Nascar has allowed a lot of things to happen that is losing fans. This 2 car draft tandem, Bristol's revamping, Taking away Rockingham and a date from darlington. We do not want any more 1.5 mile tracks. We want short track racing.

Since: Aug 17, 2010
Posted on: July 13, 2011 3:51 am

Idle Thoughts: Kentucky fiasco tough to overcome

Combine the fact that it was just another boring 1.5 mile track NASCAR has no reason to ever go back again anyways.
Cmon Bring on more Road Courses, short tracks, and super speedways....and lets rub out the 1.5 mile ovals out all together. 

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