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Landing a date on NASCAR’s prestigious Sprint Cup schedule has long been the dream of racing fans throughout Kentucky, southern Indiana and southwest Ohio.
The prospects looked good a year ago after Gov. Steve Beshear used nearby Kentucky Speedway as a backdrop to sign into law a bill which provided incentives for business expansion in the state. The measure, in part, offered tax credits for growth at Kentucky Speedway and other developments around the state.
Now that the Sparta facility has been approved for a Sprint Cup date in 2011, a considerable amount of development will occur at the track. Local officials hope other development will be in the works to entice many of the overflow of race fans into Carroll County.
O. Bruton Smith, chairman and CEO of Speedway Motorsports Inc., owner of Kentucky Speedway, plans $75 million in improvements at the facility and said a year ago the tax break would help with the expansion. The tax credits, however, were contingent on a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race being held at the track.
Smith previously stated that passage of the legislation would put Kentucky in position to host the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, that sanctioning body’s top racing competition level. Smith has said he plans to expand seating at the track from 69,000 to 119,000, expand parking and make other improvements to the garage and pit road facilities.
Those improvements will mean employment opportunities for local residents during a period when economic growth has stagnated and local unemployment has remained around 13 percent for several months.
“It’s something that’s been long awaited,” Carroll County Judge-Executive Harold “Shorty” Tomlinson said of the Sprint Cup announcement. “It’s going to be good for the local economy. I understand they’re planning to expand the seating capacity. That means construction jobs for local people.”
The local chamber of commerce believes it will help existing businesses and with the recruitment of new ones.
“It’s a great impact for us,” Mark Smith, president of the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce said. “I think it’s probably safe to say there is going to be an attempt by the chamber to recruit new eating establishments here to prepare for that. We’ll be looking to recruit some nice, sit-down type restaurants.”
Smith said efforts to entice restaurants of that nature have been attempted before, “but I think getting a Sprint Cup race in the area will help put some legs to it. It’s a great tourism opportunity.”
Carroll County’s location is a key element.
“We are close by and have hotels,” Carroll County Tourism Director Rhonda Crutcher said. “Anytime they have races there it fills our hotels and brings people to our community. Visiting Carrollton gives them something to do while the races are not going on.”
Carrollton Mayor Dwight Louden agrees.
“Obviously, the businesses closest to the interstate will be busier than here in town,” Louden said. “Hopefully, the hotels and restaurants will fill up. I think the park will be really busy with overflow at both the lodge and with campers. Some restaurants here in town may be busy. I hope so.
“There will probably be more traffic on U.S. Hwy. 42 with people coming over from Trimble County,” Louden said. “I expect the people coming from Indiana will drive up the Indiana side and cross the river on the Markland bridge. Some of the visitors may come into town and do a little shopping but I think the city will be less impacted than the businesses out near the interstate.”
Crutcher said NASCAR’s premier class of racing vehicles has a loyal following like no other sport. Spectators at a NASCAR event are not only regional residents but may come from all over the country.
“It’s a different group of people than we normally get here,” she said. “There’s a lot of people that follow NASCAR from race to race. Hopefully, while they’re here they’ll see something they like—whether it’s the state park or all the water recreation we have here because of the rivers—and will want to come back. I think it’s a great thing.”
Tomlinson said the local community needs to be ready for onslaught of traffic and business and have resources available to meet the needs of the visitors.
“When people are visiting the community they’re going to be spending money and that’s a big plus for us,” he said. “We need to be prepared for when that race comes. I understand the size of the crowd could double. The state tourism and development people are behind this thing 100 percent because there’s going to be a lot of money spent in Kentucky. You’ve got to be excited about that.”