Sunday, May 05, 2002

Carroll hopes for Cup race in '03

Kentucky Speedway campaign continues

By Tom Groeschen,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Jerry Carroll believes his time has come. The Kentucky Speedway chairman wants a NASCAR Winston Cup race in 2003, and he is ready to fight for it.

        In a nice, persuasive Carroll way, that is.

        Kentucky Speedway opens its third racing season next weekend. The track again has four race weekends this year (ARCA in May, NASCAR Busch in June, NASCAR Trucks in July, IRL in August). But Carroll still can't go anywhere without getting asked about getting Winston Cup, the premier series in American motorsports.

        “I think we've proved we can handle a Winston Cup race,” Carroll said. “If we don't get a Winston Cup race this time, we'll want to know why.”

        Carroll has kept his mouth shut — relatively speaking — in his quest to gain a Cup date. He gave NASCAR CEO Mike Helton the VIP treatment when Helton visited last June for a Busch race, which drew a crowd of 70,338 fans. But Carroll made a point of not saying too much, letting Helton soak in the atmosphere.

        Carroll believes the Busch race proved Kentucky can handle the “Cup.” Traffic concerns have been alleviated by a new I-71 interchange 2miles south of the track. Plus, the speedway recently unveiled a new polymer asphalt surface (cost: $1 million) and a new drainage system ($1.4 million).

        Everything is here but Winston Cup.

        In recent years, Helton has told the Enquirer that Kentucky is in a “saturated” Cup market that includes Indianapolis to the west, Michigan to the north and Bristol to the south. NASCAR says it is already overbooked, with 36 Winston Cup events annually.

        “As far as I am aware, there are no plans to change the Winston Cup schedule in 2003,” NASCAR spokesman Mike Zizzo told the Enquirer last week. “We're pretty much maxed out in terms of events.”

        Of Kentucky, Zizzo said, “Kentucky is an incredible facility, and NASCAR is pleased to have the Busch series there.”

        Carroll, 57, wants more. He calls Kentucky, “the largest track in the world without a Winston Cup race.” He also wonders about being an independent entity, with the NASCAR/France family's International Speedway Corporation giving its most recent “new” Cup dates to its own tracks in places such as Chicago and Kansas City.

        Despite occasional rumors that ISC might be interested in buying a piece — or all — of Kentucky Speedway, Carroll said there is nothing to that.

        Carroll does have a good relationship with Helton and many high-ranking NASCAR officials, and he has other friends in high places.

        One is Darrell Waltrip, the retired Winston Cup star who is a Fox TV race analyst — and a member of Carroll's speedway board of directors. Waltrip sees Helton frequently and will continue to lobby for Kentucky.

        Carroll also plans to campaign harder himself. Whether via e-mail, letters, phone calls or word of mouth — NASCAR and IRL drivers are among the biggest fans of Kentucky Speedway — Carroll plans to put it all in motion.

        “We can't dictate to NASCAR what they should do, but this is a business,” Carroll said. “We have created value.”

        Financially, the track broke even last year but generally has spent more than it has taken in since opening in 2000. Carroll's fellow investors include the heads of Cintas (Richard Farmer), Outback Steakhouse (Chris Sullivan) and Churchill Downs/Arlington Park (Richard Duchossois) and the retired head of America's largest water-heater company, State Industries (John Lindahl).

        “They can ride the storm out (financially) but not for 10 or 15 years,” Carroll said.

        If Winston Cup doesn't come by 2003, Carroll said, there are several options. He will never abandon the Cup chase, but he said there is also the TRAC series (Team Racing Auto Circuit), a fledgling stock car series that bills itself as a “complementary” circuit to NASCAR. Carroll said TRAC is not his first option, but it could become one. He also mentions “creating our own race,” which might feature Winston Cup drivers.

        “We're a big believer in paying our dues, and we think we've done that,” Carroll said. “Things can change and do change. It's a free country, free enterprise, and we think we've got a great product to sell.”


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