News & Media

Waltrip weighs in on home track's traffic debacle

July 13, 2011, Joe Menzer,

Hall of Fame driver admits Kentucky dropped the ball but is sure it will be fixed

Darrell Waltrip, recently voted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame, answers this week's six questions.

1. Much has been said about last Saturday night's Sprint Cup debut at Kentucky Speedway, a facility admittedly close to your heart. How do you feel about what went down there?

Waltrip: Every week, there is always something. You go back to Daytona and nobody likes the two-car draft. There are always things on the radar that we can be negative about or complain about, and I understand that.

"It reminded me of a clogged drain. It started off and it was just not running very fast. And then it got all bogged up and before you knew it, it was overflowing and everybody just kind of got overwhelmed and just maybe panicked a little bit."


But I have to look at the positives that came out of Kentucky. We've commented all year long about the empty seats, the empty seats. Where are the people? Where are the fans? And you have to admit that was an unbelievable crowd at Kentucky on Saturday night. It was a sellout crowd-plus, apparently. So the positives are that it was three great nights of racing, three great finishes, and lots of fans showing up for the inaugural Cup race. Obviously the overwhelming thing was what happened on Saturday afternoon, with the problem with the traffic.

Let me stop right there and explain something. I don't work for SMI [Speedway Motorsports Inc., which owns Kentucky Speedway] I'm not employed by the Speedway. I have no vested interest in SMI or the Speedway or anything else. I'm speaking purely as a guy who when the track was being built, I had a lot of input on what was taking place. But that was 11 years ago. Basically, over the last two or three years, particularly since Bruton [Smith, chairman and CEO of SMI] bought the race track, I'm just a supporter of the race track. I'm from Kentucky; I have a heart interest in the place. Obviously I've been a promoter of having a Cup race there ever since it was built -- so to finally see a Cup race there, to see that become reality was a dream come true. But in no way am I defending SMI, the race track, or what happened Saturday night. I was there; I observed; and like so many other folks involved with the race track, I was shocked when the traffic started backing up and they couldn't get everybody in.

2. And despite all that, you saw positives in what transpired?

Waltrip: The positives were the sellout crowd, which illustrated the solid backing that track has always had, and [the fact that] the drivers and every fan that I talked to loved the experience and loved the event. Obviously there are some folks that are unhappy because of the traffic issues. I don't think you can find one race track that we go to that hasn't had some traffic problems, whether it's getting into the race track or getting [the fans] out, since our sport has been around.

Another point I'd like to make: my dad told me a long time ago, 'Don't try to make yourself look good by trying to make someone else look bad.' There are a few people I have been disappointed in over the last few days who have taken what happened at Kentucky and tried to make Kentucky look bad to make themselves look good. I think that's unfortunate for our sport. Anytime there is something that affects the sport like Saturday night where we had some unhappy customers, that kind of goes across the board. We should all then try to get on board and try to correct the problem, not add to it. I guess what I'm saying about Saturday night is that there was some stuff that came out of it that was good; there was some stuff about it that came out bad; and there was some stuff that came out ugly.

3. What's the worst traffic situation you've ever been involved in or witnessed during your driving and broadcasting career?

Waltrip: I got stuck in traffic once at Pocono when I was still driving and thought I was going to miss the race. Not the drivers' meeting. The race!

4. Did the folks at Kentucky Speedway do a poor job of anticipating this problem?

Waltrip: We didn't see this coming. They added a lot of parking. ... It reminded me of a clogged drain. It started off and it was just not running very fast. And then it got all bogged up and before you knew it, it was overflowing and everybody just kind of got overwhelmed and just maybe panicked a little bit when they started to realize they weren't going to be able to get all the people into the race track.

5. Why did they only have one main gate open at the front of the race track, when it appeared they could have had up to three open?

Waltrip: I don't understand that, either. Because you can go on down to the next exit and come in the back way to the race track. That's actually the best way to get in. So I don't know. ... They just blew it. The bottom line is they blew the parking thing badly. I think if it had been handled differently, it would have been congested but it never would have turned into the fiasco that it did. The sad thing that they're all realizing today is that, you know, we didn't do our job.

6. Are you confident they will get it fixed for future races there?

Waltrip: First let me say this: I ran into a couple of fans who didn't even have tickets. They just came to see what the experience was going to be like. They were souvenir shopping and just got caught behind the grandstands. ... And I don't know if this is funny or not, but I ran into one guy who bought a Standing Room Only ticket and you know what he asked me? He asked, 'Do you know where my seat is?' I was like, 'Whoa, dude, look at your ticket.'

I certainly have a strong connection to the race track. I'm a big fan of Bruton's and what he and SMI have done for our sport across the board. But I'll be the first to tell you that was a travesty, what happened Saturday night. It doesn't matter whether it's one, or 100 or 100,000, the speedway has to do a better job of making sure every fan that has a ticket gets into the race track. But all the right people were there. The Governor [of Kentucky, Steve Beshear] was there; Bruton and Marcus Smith [from SMI] were there ... they were all there and they're all giving their input now on what has to be done. The Governor already has said that whatever they can do on their side to physically make it better, they will do. They will make it happen. They will make it right.