Monday, July 18, 2011

Smith's Comments Compound Fans Anger

Fans had quite a bit of trouble getting into Kentucky Speedway two weeks ago. But by the following Friday, traffic had cleared enough for Speedway Motorsports, Inc., President Bruton Smith to back a rather large bus over Kentucky governor Steve Beshear, the company hired to handle parking at the speedway and even NASCAR fans themselves.

In a bombastic media event staged at New Hampshire Motor Speedway Friday, the SMI boss initially apologized for the situation,” saying, “I’m sorry that we had such a traffic.” Sadly, he spent the next 20 minutes attempting to deflect blame away from SMI and Kentucky Speedway, and onto other parties. “I don’t think anybody, even the people who were unlucky enough to sit in traffic for four hours… could foresee what occurred,” he said. “Maybe God knew, (but) I don’t know of anybody else that knew how many people would try to come and see this event.”

Smith blamed the company hired to handle parking at the speedway, saying, “I think they did a lousy job. They had a lot of inexperienced people (and) I did not think they did a very good job on parking.” He blamed adjoining landowners, saying, “We've studied the aerial (pictures), and our neighbors who were going to do all this parking, they didn't do a very good job, either.”

However, when told that a spokesperson for the Kentucky State Police had also blamed inadequate parking procedures for the fiasco, Smith immediately changed his tune. “I don’t know the gentleman,” he sniffed. “I don’t recognize his expertise. I disagree completely.’’

Pressed for remedies, Smith inexplicably criticized the racing at Daytona and Talladega. “I’m asking NASCAR, let’s go to work on this car and stop this foolishness of having two cars; one pushing another one,” he said. “That’s not what we built this sport on. That is not good. We’ve got traffic problems, but let’s work on that, too. Let’s see who can fix what first. I am absolutely dedicated to fix the problems in Kentucky before the dancing partner thing can be cured.’’

Smith repeatedly blasted the state of Kentucky and Gov. Beshear, saying, “Interstate 71 is horrible. It sucks. It’s terrible. It’s the lousiest piece of interstate that I’ve ever driven on… and it should have been corrected 15 years ago.” He vowed to pressure Beshear to expand or refurbish the highway, a project the Governor has warned may not be feasible for his cash-strapped state.

Smith’s response?

“I can't go out there and widen the highway myself. We don't control the highways. I wish we could sit here and tell you we do, but we don't control the highways.” Asked what he will do if the state is unable to meet his demands for infrastructure improvements, Smith played a now-familiar card, crowing, “Las Vegas baby!” He has used similar strong-arm tactics in Concord, NC, and Loudon, NH, with considerable success in the past. Time will tell if Beshear is as easily bullied.

The governor has refused to join the name-calling and finger pointing. He has pledged to work with the speedway on its traffic and parking issues, while cautioning that taxpayers are already heavily burdened and funding tight. “It’s clear that there are issues… which must be addressed before next year's event,” he said. “We will work with track officials to determine what can be done to address these problems, so that next year's NASCAR event will be even bigger and better."
Prior to Friday’s media event, NASCAR President Mike Helton called Kentucky’s traffic situation a "very serious issue," saying the sanctioning body “will not rest” until a solution is found. Michigan International Speedway president Roger Curtis went further, calling the traffic jam “an exercise in blame and unpreparedness” and saying Kentucky Speedway “should have known the challenges it would face when it tripled in size. It appears the mentality at some other racetracks today is to see how much money they can make off a fan.”

“I don't know who in the heck (Curtis) is, and I don't care to know,” huffed Smith. “It would be like if one of my people responded to Daytona in a nasty way when the track broke up. …That is not what we're about.”

To their credit, SMI President Marcus Smith and Kentucky Speedway General Manager Mark Simendinger have done yeoman work, offering to exchange unused Kentucky tickets for upcoming events at Bristol, Atlanta, New Hampshire, Charlotte and Texas Motor Speedways, or next year’s race in Kentucky. They have also worked tirelessly to salve the feelings of irate fans; issuing repeated apologies and accepting blame for their part in the debacle. Unfortunately, the man who embodies both SMI and Kentucky Speedway is unwilling – or unable – to do the same. Asked if he considered refunding money to patrons unable to make their way into Kentucky Speedway two weeks ago, Bruton Smith snapped, “No. Did not and will not.”


“We don’t want to.”

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