Smith buys Kentucky race track
By Jenna Fryer
CONCORD ó Kentucky Speedway moved a step closer to landing a coveted Sprint Cup Series race when Speedway Motorsports Inc. on Thursday added it to its growing portfolio of tracks.
Kentuckyís previous owners have fought for a Cup race, and SMI owner Bruton Smith said he wants a date for his new track by 2009.
Just how he gets one at his eighth facility remains to be seen.
iWe will continue to wonder about that,î Smith teased. iWeíll certainly be working on that.î
Smith has battled for years with NASCAR over the awarding of Cup races, and Kentucky already has unsuccessfully sued to get its own date.
Track officials filed an antitrust lawsuit in 2005 against NASCAR and Smith rival International Speedway Inc., but it was dismissed in January. Itís now in the U.S. Court of Appeals.
There was immediate speculation Smith has his eye on Pocono Raceway, which currently has two Cup races.
If he purchased that track, he could move one or both its dates to any of his speedways.
iIím always interested in a speedway,î Smith said. iBut here again, if I say something about Pocono, it would indicate to you that itís for sale. I donít know if itís for sale or not, but if youíre telling me it is, then Iíll make a phone call tomorrow.î
Smith has acquired race dates by purchasing tracks before. He and Bob Bahre teamed in 1996 to buy North Wilkesboro Speedway, which they promptly shuttered when Smith took one of its races to his Texas track and Bahre moved the other to New Hampshire.
Smith spent $340 million to buy New Hampshire from Bahre last year, and there was speculation heíd take one of its two races to Las Vegas, where Smith has unsuccessfully lobbied for a second date.
New Hampshire president Jerry Gappens said Smith has assured him the track is not in danger of losing one of its dates to Las Vegas or Kentucky.
iHe never made a promise, but he did tell me he doesnít see any reason to change anything,î Gappens said. iHe spent two days up there a few weeks ago looking everything over, we just spent $200,000 renovating the offices and Bruton has a master plan for that track.î
If New Hampshire is safe, then Smith might look to his track in Atlanta. The facility doesnít sell out and is saddled with a pair of dates that are often afflicted by poor weather. And, Smith has already offered to swap dates with ISC-owned California Speedway to help both tracks overcome weather handicaps.
But, Smith has so far steadfastly refused to take dates from his tracks to secure races at his other facilities. That makes Pocono the most likely scenario for Smith to secure a date for Kentucky.
NASCAR already has started lining up the 2009 calendar, and spokesman Ramsey Poston said iitís getting fairly late in the yearî to open talks with a new speedway. Pocono is owned by Joseph and Rose Mattioli, and is one of just three tracks on the Cup circuit not owned by either ISC or SMI.
iI wouldnít speculate on (Pocono) having a date or not having a date,î Poston said. iItís certainly been a very good track; itís been part of NASCARís history and heritage. It certainly has served that region of the country very well.î
Mattioli was not immediately available for comment.
One way or another, itís clear Smith will find a Cup date to give to Kentucky. The track, about halfway between Cincinnati and Louisville in northern Kentucky, regularly hosts NASCARís second-tier Nationwide Series.
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