Speedway manager: Prepare for impact on area economy

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By Dave Taylor

Communities in close regional proximity to the Kentucky Speedway need to begin bracing for the economic impact of next July’s NASCAR Sprint Cup race.
That was the message expressed by Kentucky Speedway General Manager Mark Simendinger during a media day at the track last week. Ticket sales are already “way up” over previous years, he said, and the Cup race is still eight months away.
“What we’re finding out is that this event is really not at all comparable to what we’ve done in the past,” Simendinger said. “It has a much larger radius that we draw from of people that are interested in it. Every reserved camping spot that we’ve offered so far has been taken.”
That includes 1,200 existing camp sites with an additional 3,300 sites currently under development.
Speedway officials expect that in addition to fans from rural Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, and the Cincinnati and Louisville markets, the fan base will expand to include the St.Louis, Nashville and Indianapolis markets.
The July 9, 2011, race date brings to culmination a week of activities that open with the Fourth of July holiday on Monday. NASCAR has scheduled a busy weekend of racing at Kentucky with the Camping World Truck Series taking to the track on Thursday, July 7; the Nationwide Series cars on Friday, July 8; and the inaugural Sprint Cup Series event at the track on Saturday, July 9.
“Our date is an excellent date for us in our estimation,” Simendinger said. “We’re bracing for an entire week of people being here and taking advantage of all three races and taking advantage of the short work week.”
Simendinger cited a need for more hotel rooms in north central Kentucky but hedged on whether he expected local developers to pick up the ball.
“I think there is going to be a significant impact on hotel rooms in Cincinnati and in Louisville,” he said. “There’s a need for so many hotel rooms. There’s not enough in this immediate surrounding area and up into northern Kentucky.”
Private developers will have to determine if there is enough business outside of the weekends reserved for activity at the track to warrant investment in hotel and restaurant facilities, Simendinger said.
“Obviously our two race weekends are going to be much larger than they’ve ever been before,” he said. “That’s going to be a significant boom during that time period. What it means the other times remains to be seen. A lot of that is going to depend on private developers.”
SMI has committed between $90 and $100 million to improvements at Kentucky Speedway, Simendinger said.
“We’re focused on having the very best motorsports experience,” he said, “the best racing and the best experience for anybody that comes here and we’re not focused on the external development.”
Simendinger predicted that businesses west of the speedway may see more of an economic impact due to the travel habits of fans.
“You have to think about where people are traveling from and how they’re going to travel,” he said. “Southwest Airlines flies into Louisville. Southwest Airlines doesn’t fly into Cincinnati. For people who are making those kind of travel arrangements it’s going to be easier for them to be booking near Louisville. I would be really surprised if Louisville didn’t experience a significant boost.”
Speedway Motorsports, Inc. Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Bruton Smith envisions an airport near the track which would allow convenient access to the track by race team members and fans who fly private aircraft. SMI owns the Kentucky Speedway and several other racing venues around the country. Smith said in August the airport would need a 6,500-foot runway.
“I don’t have anything new to report other than the fact that it is a high, high priority of Bruton Smith’s which makes it an extremely high priority of mine,” Simendinger said. “We are working very hard to try to get that done. In all honesty it’s a very challenging economic time for everybody so there are still some funding questions that need to be answered. Believe me, when Bruton says it’s a priority we work on it and we’re working on it.”
Quite a bit of work has been completed behind the scenes since August regarding plans for an airport, Simendinger said. This includes design work and other planning, “but there are still some funding issues that need to be resolved and it’s going to take more work.”
Meanwhile, speedway officials are meeting with convention and visitor’s groups in Louisville and Cincinnati, Simendinger said, “to make sure the fans know what their options are and also that those locations are ready.”