News & Media

Helton: No rest until we figure out what happened

July 15, 2011, Dave Rodman,

LOUDON, N.H -- Pleased with fan support at Kentucky race, apologizes to those who didn't see it

NASCAR president Mike Helton opened Friday's activities at New Hampshire Motor Speedway making it perfectly clear that the traffic debacle that marred last weekend's inaugural Cup Series weekend at Kentucky Speedway was being addressed and wouldn't "get lost in the shuffle."

But he also said that, while estimates of between 10-20,000 people didn't make it into the facility due to parking shortages and traffic tie-ups, the overall event was a huge positive.

"It was very unfortunate that it happened. We're sorry for the fans that were touched by that unfortunate episode. We will not let this fall to the wayside until we get resolution to it."


"I want to make sure that it doesn't get lost in all this talk about traffic -- we were very pleased and excited about the overall support that fans showed the inaugural Sprint Cup race in Kentucky last week," Helton said. "It was impressive [and I] don't want that to get overshadowed."

While it took Kentucky Speedway three days after the Quaker State 400 to announce their refund and restitution policy for fans who didn't get in to see the race, Helton said NASCAR's executive group didn't hesitate.

"We take what happened last weekend very seriously," Helton said. "Immediately, conversations opened up between NASCAR, [Kentucky Speedway], Speedway Motorsports -- from the highest of levels on the NASCAR side and the highest of levels on Speedway Motorsports' side -- Jim France, Brian France, Lesa Kennedy, Bruton Smith, Marcus [Smith], everybody is engaged in this topic.

"The intent is to find out exactly what happened so that a cure or fix can be determined. We will not rest until we have figured that out. As you know, we're in that time of year when we are working on the next season's calendar, so the timing of this is very important.

"It was very unfortunate that it happened. We're sorry for the fans that were touched by that unfortunate episode. We will not let this fall to the wayside until we get resolution to it."

* Smith: No cash refunds for Kentucky race fans

Helton reiterated NASCAR's relationship with its track operators, namely that the tracks are responsible for correctly preparing for and carrying out events and that NASCAR could not have foreseen or predicted what ultimately happened at Kentucky.

"NASCAR is unique to other sports in that the NASCAR model works by the independent relationships between NASCAR as a sanctioning body, the tracks as the hosts of the events and the teams and drivers being the competitors," Helton said. "We all work together to put the events and the season on. There's responsibility in each group's world that needs to happen correctly to make the events go smoothly.

"In advance of the inaugural Sprint Cup race in Kentucky, there were a lot of meetings at the race track, inside the organizations -- with the race track and with NASCAR in preparation for the inaugural Sprint Cup race. I'll remind everybody that NASCAR had been racing at Kentucky Speedway for several years with Nationwide [since 2001] and Truck [since 2000], so it's not like a brand-new construction or a brand-new location in general, but it was the inaugural Sprint Cup race, which in some regards takes it to a different level. There were a lot of planning meetings, a lot of sessions that took place.

"Our role in those is to have dialogue and have some types of assurances that the promoters of the event are experienced and are on the right track. When Speedway Motorsports bought Kentucky Speedway, obviously that facility inherited a lot of experience, promoting races. The planning for this inaugural event there tracked true to the course."

Speaking several hours after Helton at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Friday, Bruton Smith, chairman and CEO of Speedway Motorsports Inc., said that his employees would work diligently to get the traffic problem solved. He also reiterated that it would take hard work not only on the behalf of SMI, but also many other entities to get the problem fixed properly.

"I think most of the people realize what we do is large," Smith said. "What we did up there at Kentucky last Saturday -- well, the Super Bowl gets 70,000 or 75,000, and we had two Super Bowl crowds there. When you're dealing with the large crowds that we had, it takes everybody. It's not just us as a corporation. You need the state, the county, the city, whatever. You've got to have that type of cooperation everywhere we go. Without that, you'll get lost in the shuffle."

Helton said on one of his trips, he viewed a "well thought-out, very nice, presentable full color page of the traffic ingress, and then there was another page of traffic egress."

"I think part of what we want to know now is, was that plan followed correctly or what might have interfered with the preparation that went into the event that caused what happened," Helton said. "I don't want to jump ahead of us finding out the facts and speculate. What we do know, and I think it was obvious to everybody, there was a lot of work done at the race track prior to the Cup race moving in last weekend, not just on the racing surface, but in the parking lots. There was a lot of earth being moved out there in preparation to accommodate the Sprint Cup weekend.

"How all that came together last Friday and Saturday is what we have an interest in finding out."

Smith also said some available parking spaces were never utilized, much to his dismay. He insisted that much of the blame lay with a private company that SMI and Kentucky Speedway had contracted out to handle the parking.

"We had a company employed to do the parking. I think they had a lot of inexperienced people, and I do not think they did a very good job on parking," Smith said. "I think it took too long -- because we were timing how long it would take to park after cars came into a particular area to park. That being said, I think they just did a lousy job."

Smith said he actually was encouraged by how fast the Kentucky Speedway parking lots emptied after the race.

"We timed it and we did have the speedway emptied in three hours and 20 minutes. We've had speedways that took longer than that [to empty after a race]," Smith said.

Helton did not give Kentucky any kind of vote of confidence regarding the 2012 Sprint Cup schedule, but he said that was business as usual.

"I don't want to speculate on that type of thing," Helton said. "I can't help but think -- you look at the history of our sport, we've had issues that happen, and we generally figure out how to work through them. I think what we're after right now is to figure out what happened in Sparta [Kentucky] and figure out what the cure is for it.

"Outside of that, I don't have an opinion at this point. But we're working toward a resolution."

Smith added that engineers already have submitted plans to him for an additional interchange off Interstate 71 that will lead to the track, and that he plans to present those plans to Gov. Steve Beshear of Kentucky during a meeting soon.

Inaugural Cup Series events at other SMI tracks, Texas Motor Speedway in 1997 and Las Vegas Motor Speedway in 1998, were similarly marred, but they've recovered nicely.

"I try not to offer opinions or speculate," Helton said. "There's two things. One is, we have had inaugural occurrences, like Texas and Vegas and others, that I wouldn't define as acceptable, but we have had them as experience.

"The other point is that this was not our first race at Kentucky Speedway [but] I grant you, the physical layout of the surrounding area outside the race track was under significant changes. So what I think we have an interest in is in finding out exactly what happened Saturday night -- did all those changes contribute to that and did it maybe compound the situation?

"Was there overconfidence from the fact they had raced there for 10 years and not taken in full consideration of the physical changes that were taking place? Those are the kind of questions we'll have to get to the bottom of to figure out the solution."