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Kentucky track gets facelift

Associated Press
SPARTA, Ky. ó Kentucky Speedwayís facelift should be complete well before NASCARís top series visits the track for the first time in July.
Officials said Thursday the major parts of the ambitious expansion project will be done by late May, well before the green flag drops on the first Sprint Cup race at the 1.5-mile tri-oval located about halfway between Cincinnati and Louisville on July 9.
Gov. Steve Beshear toured the facility on Thursday and struggled to put the six-month overhaul in perspective.
ěWow, what a place weíre going to have here,î Beshear said. ěItís very impressive what is going on here, all of the advances that weíve made in a very short time. I always knew when (Speedway Motorsports Inc. owner) Bruton Smith said he was going to do something, he did it.î
And do it ahead of schedule. Despite the scope of the expansion, SMI construction manager Steve Swift called it one of the easier facelifts heís done for the company, which owns several NASCAR-sanctioned tracks including Bristol, Charlotte and Texas Motorspeedways.
ěWeíll be finished early,î Swift said. ěRight up until (the race) weíll be doing small things.î
The big things should be wrapped up less than a year after the track finally received its long-coveted Cup date following a lengthy court battle between the former owners and NASCAR.
The legal battle finally ended last spring and in August the track became the first new venue to join the Cup schedule since Chicago and Kansas were added in 2001.
Smith, who purchased the track in late 2008, promised to spend $90-100 million in renovations. He didnít waste time getting started either. Construction on new grandstands began just days after last Septemberís IndyCar race.
The track is adding 40,000 grandstand seats to expand capacity to 117,000. There is also room for 4,000 recreational vehicles, up from 1,000 before the renovation.
General manager Mark Simendinger joked the track hardly looks like the same place he walked into when it opened in 2000.
ěI feel like a guy who just sold his house,î he said. ěI thought we had a nice house until these guys came in and renovated everything.î
The state chipped in too, promising generous tax breaks to the track if SMI could secure a Cup date. The speedway already hosts annual visits from NASCARís Nationwide and Truck Series and IndyCar. The Truck Series and Nationwide races, previously stand alone events at the track, be run on July 7 and July 8, respectively.
The track is eligible to recoup up to $22 million in expenses if it meets certain financial guidelines. Beshear said some estimates have the Cup race generating up to $150 million for the region.
Some of it is already being felt.
The project has produced over 200 jobs, with some crews working six days a week to make the deadline.
Dozens of workers were scattered about the track on Thursday during Beshearís visit, the clanging of hammers and screeching of saws forcing Simendinger to raise his voice while explaining the finer points of the expansion to the governor.
The track is also moving pit road 200 feet closer to the grandstand to give fans a better view of the action. Simendinger said he doesnít anticipate making any changes to the track, like repaving it, saying the sometimes bumpy surface has produced an exciting product during the Nationwide Seriesí annual visit.
There are also plans to update and perhaps move the garage area, but that wonít happen until the fall at the earliest.
Simendinger acknowledged there is pressure for the track to produce a sellout when NASCARís top stars visit. He described ticket sales as brisk and would be surprised if all 117,000 seats arenít filled on the second Saturday night in July.
ěOur job is to put on the very best race that we can,î Simendinger said. ěWeíve had some success here in the past and we think we can do it again.î
The Associated Press
03/24/11 14:51

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