The 2001 racing season heats up and you can be part of it at the races as a spectator, on a behind-the-scenes tour, or driving a race car around the track at high speeds
There's no question that Kentucky has made its mark on the auto racing world,
producing such drivers as three-time NASCAR Winston Cup Champion Darrell Waltrip,
brother Michael Waltrip, Jeremy Mayfield, and Jeff, David, and Mark Green. There's
even a NASCAR Busch Series team, Brewco Motor-sports, based in Kentucky. It was
only a matter of time before a track attracting "big time racing" appeared
in the Bluegrass.
Kentucky Speedway, the big track in the small northern
Kentucky town of Sparta, has experienced tremendous popularity since opening last
"We had the largest stand-alone truck race last
year," Director of Communications Tim Bray says, referring to 2000 attendance.
"We also hosted the largest stand-alone ARCA (Automobile Racing Club of America)
race and the largest IRL (Indy Racing League) race outside the Indy 500."
The popularity of the track may have a lot to do with
the layout of the facility. The location of 104 infield garage stalls enables
fans in the stands to get a good view of what goes on behind the scenes, and every
inch of the 1.5-mile tri-oval can be seen from every seat in the house.
"The race track lends itself to spectators,"
Also, the people at Kentucky Speedway have made sure
that race fans don't have to settle for being merely spectators. The facility
hosted the Richard Petty Driving Experience on April 5, and fans who purchased
at least $40 in merchandise at the Kentucky Speedway gift shop on March 31 had
the opportunity to take to the track in their own automobiles.
Kentucky Speedway's ability to draw the attention and
enthusiasm of race fans has in turn drawn enthusiasm from competitors.
"Everything about it is spectacular. This is just
a first-class facility," says 2000 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Champion
Greg Biffle. "I can't believe the media coverage, the fans, and the way the
newspapers have covered this race (2000 Kroger 225 Truck race)."
The speedway started as the largest excavation project
in the history of the Commonwealth, with more than 7,000,000 cubic yards of dirt
moved, and grew to host the NASCAR Slim Jim All-Pro Series and Craftsman Truck
Series on opening weekend June 16 and 17, 2000, and ARCA and the IRL visited later
during the track's inaugural season.
The All-Pro Series, Truck Series, ARCA, and IRL are
all set to return to Sparta this year along with the NASCAR Busch and Goody's
Dash series and the USAC Midget Series to make up four weekends of racing action,
which began the weekend of May 11-12 and runs through the August 10-11 weekend.
"The region was thirsting for a track of this
magnitude and we delivered in 2000," Executive Vice President/General Manager
Mark Cassis says. "With the Busch Series anchoring our schedule this season,
2001 is going to build on the tremendous foundation we laid in our inaugural season."
Considering a year is 52 weeks long, four weekends
may not sound like a lot, but there's often something going on at Kentucky Speedway.
The track has become one of the most popular test venues in racing, hosting a
number of Winston Cup test sessions in addition to testing by competitors in racing
series that actually visit the speedway for official competition.
"Winston Cup teams can test here unlimited,"
Bray explains. NASCAR allows teams to test as often as they want at tracks where
their respective series do not compete.
Winston Cup drivers who have tested at Kentucky Speedway
in either 2000 or 2001 include Casey Atwood, Jason Leffler, Darrell Waltrip, Michael
Waltrip, and Tony Stewart, among others. Fans are welcome to watch these test
sessions from the Kentucky Speedway Visitors' Center.
Kentucky Speedway even has something to offer to people
who aren't generally excited by thunderous horsepower. More than 52,000 fans gathered
at the facility on July 15, 2000, to make up the largest concert attendance in
this part of the country when Metallica's "Summer Sanitarium Tour" visited
Sparta for an eight-hour concert.
With the addition of a NASCAR Busch Series race to
the 2001 schedule, Kentucky-born Busch Series competitors are looking forward
to racing in front of the "home crowd."
"Jeff (Green) and I were talking and we are just
so excited to have one of the best racing facilities in the world located right
here in Kentucky, our home state," 1994 Busch Series Champion and Owensboro
native David Green says. "It's going to be a homecoming for us; all our family
and friends will be able to see us race here at this beautiful place."
Auto racing has become one of the most popular spectator
sports in America in recent years and enjoys a strong following in the Bluegrass
State. With the building of Kentucky Speedway, fans in Kentucky no longer have
to rely on lengthy road trips to catch live, in-person action of their favorite
sport and get up close to their favorite drivers.
Kentucky Speedway Tours
For personal tours, call (859) 567-3400. Tours
are 45 minutes in length and give you an up-close view of the property, suites,
infield, winner's circle, and two laps around the track. Cost is $5 for adults,
$4 seniors, and ages 6 and under are free. Advance reservations are required.
The Race Car Driving Experience
If you want a real-life experience, the Richard
Petty Driving Experience has a variety of programs scheduled at Kentucky Speedway
during 2001.You can ride shotgun in a two-seat stock car driven by a professional
instructor for a qualifying run, or you can enroll in a training program and
drive solo for several laps at true-to-life racing speeds in a 600 hp NASCAR
Winston Cup-style stock car.
A variety of programs are available, ranging in cost
from $99 to $1,199. For more information or to make reservations, call (800)
BE-PETTY or go online at www.1800bepetty.com.
The Richard Petty Driving Experience will be at Kentucky Speedway:
- July 17-22
- September 6-11
- September 13-17
- October 4-7