My old Kentucky home

BY Darrell Waltrip • December 14, 2009

Most of you know that I was born and raised in Owensboro, Ky. Most people also know that I am a diehard Kentucky Wildcats fan, particularly when it comes to basketball. Boy, do we have a great team this year with a great coach. We got the best freshman in the country and what an incredible turnaround for that program. This team looks to be one of the best that Kentucky has ever had.

We know that basketball is probably the biggest sport in Kentucky, but that could all change in a very short period of time. We also know that Kentucky is famous for its horses, but the state might soon become even more famous for its horsepower.

Most of you also know that I was heavily involved since the beginning with the development, building and promotion of Kentucky Speedway. It was a perfect site on roughly 1,200 acres for a racetrack, and I was really excited about being a part of it from the first shovel of dirt being turned. You had the interstate right next to the track plus a community that was passionate about stock car racing. Heck, if you flew over the track in a helicopter, you would see the track is D-shaped and the garage is W-shaped. That wasn't by accident.

NASCAR was gracious enough to move both a Camping World Series and Nationwide Series race there. So the track was off and running. But let's be clear here: There was never any guarantee of a Cup race being awarded to Kentucky. In fact, talk like that was discouraged. Sure, there was the possibility for associating with another track owner and possible realignment of dates might bring a race there.

That was encouraging, but unfortunately never materialized.

Now the difference between the Texas lawsuit and the Kentucky lawsuit was as different as night and day. Texas was promised a date. The date Texas got didn't come from NASCAR. It came after owner Bruton Smith, along with New Hampshire track owner Bob Bahre, bought the North Wilkesboro track. They each took one of those two dates. So Bruton opened Texas on the old North Wilkesboro date.

But Bruton never got the date he was promised from NASCAR, and that led to a lawsuit in which Bruton prevailed. Now Kentucky, on the other hand, was never promised anything. While assured there might be a possibility of a date dependent on a lot of factors, Kentucky was clearly told not to get its hopes up.

I always was of the belief that "If you build it, they will come." That track lacked for nothing. When it was planned out and built, it was for NASCAR Sprint Cup racing. From parking to the traffic flow to all the amenities, it was all with the thought of Cup racing in the future. That was the plan from Day One.

The track has a lot of grip. If you ask the drivers, they will tell you they love racing at Kentucky Speedway especially because of the multiple grooves. The only issue that arose was the track surface, but the owners didn't hesitate to fix it any time there was a problem. Now, it's just so smooth and has a ton of grip. That leads to a lot of exciting side-by-side racing.

The grandstands are primo. There are plenty of bathrooms, which was a big complaint about tracks back in the day. The suites are spectacular. There's even an Outback Steakhouse restaurant in the facility to provide catering for the suites. There's even a statue behind the backstretch by the souvenir store dedicated to yours truly.

There's simply nothing wrong with the track other than it didn't have a Cup date.

Unfortunately, time continued to pass, and despite the tremendous turnouts by fans at the Nationwide, Truck series and even IRL events, it became clear a Cup race was not on the horizon. That became very discouraging after a while.

I was put in a very bad situation when the owners of Kentucky Speedway sued NASCAR over the process of how dates are given to racetracks. It just seems to me that nothing good ever comes from lawsuits. When I learned the track could be bought, I was able to get in touch with Bruton Smith and he went to Kentucky Speedway and made a deal to buy it.

Bruton's plan was to have a race there in 2010, but the track owners refused to drop their lawsuit against NASCAR. A three-judge federal appeals court panel rejected the claims by the track owners last Friday. They said the owners failed to prove NASCAR and International Speedway Corporation worked together to keep Kentucky from being added to the Sprint Cup schedule. So I think this is finally the end.

Hopefully it is, because then Bruton could move a race there in 2011. When that happens, I just have to say it will be another Red Letter day in DW's life. All I ever wanted for that area of northern Kentucky and southern Ohio was a great facility that the community could be proud of and the jobs it would create.

Everything is in place to have one of the finest facilities in the country with some of the most passionate NASCAR fans you will ever see. I can't wait to see the green flag fall for the very first NASCAR Sprint Cup race at my old Kentucky home, which in this case is Kentucky Speedway.


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