Gov. Steve Beshear said Sunday he will work with officials at Kentucky Speedway to address the traffic flow and parking problems that plagued Saturday's Quaker State 400.
A bottleneck traffic jam at Interstate 71's Exit 57 onto Ky. 35, the road that runs past the track, left thousands stuck in traffic for six hours in many cases and ultimately too late to see the race. Many ticket holders also said they were turned away when they eventually arrived after the race began because there was no more parking left at the track.
"There is no question that the entire week at the Kentucky Speedway was a big success, but it's also clear that there are issues, such as traffic flow, which must be addressed before next year's event," Beshear said in a statement. "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."
Beshear said it was too early to tell whether the state would get involved in a major expansion or renovation of the interstate near the track. That is the hope, though, of Bruton Smith, the chairman of the track's ownership group, who said during the race that the state would need to step up in fixing the interstate.
On Sunday, the speedway's general manager, Mark Simendinger, apologized to fans for the ordeal.
"Kentucky Speedway regrets the traffic conditions surrounding the Quaker State 400," Simendinger said in a statement. "We're committed to working with NASCAR, state and local officials, and traffic experts to assure that this never happens again.
"The details of these improvements will be announced over time as they are formulated."
Simendinger invited ticket holders to share their experiences by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
"We thank all our fans for giving the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series such a great welcome to our venue," he said.
In a statement, NASCAR officials said they were "thrilled by the incredible response" to the inaugural race at Sparta, but that they were "extremely disappointed by the traffic problems and inconveniences endured by fans who wanted to be part of our races."
Officials said they "will be in close communications with Kentucky Speedway ... to see that they work to resolve the issues."
"This situation cannot happen again," the statement said.
Fans, meanwhile, took to social media on Sunday and had created a Facebook page called "Refund the Kentucky Speedway Fans" by afternoon.
Track officials said they are evaluating whether to issue refunds "and will announce a policy for these affected fans within seven days," Simendinger said.
William Hardin of Lexington will be among those asking for refunds.
Hardin said he paid $220 for tickets for him and his 6-year-old son, Mason, who has a genetic movement disorder, to see the race. Hardin said that after being stuck in traffic for six hours, they were told at three gates that there was no more parking available.
"By then, there were 50 laps left," he said. "I wish I could explain how I felt that he could not see the cars on the track, only the cars in the traffic for six hours," Hardin said. "It ripped my heart out."
David Evans of Lewisport was one of the lucky ones. He made it to the track in time to see the race but lost $300 because he was in "the traffic jam from hell" for so long that he was unable to use passes he had bought to walk around the pit.
"It pretty well beats anything that I've been through," he said.
Jim Nelson of Louisville was also able to watch the race, but it took him 5½ hours to drive 13 miles.
"This is total mismanagement," he said Sunday.
Despite the problems, there were at least 100,000 fans on hand for the sold-out event, Kentucky Speedway spokesman Tim Bray said. Smith, the chairman of the track's ownership group, told the Kentucky Enquirer during the race that between 15,000 and 20,000 ticket holders might have been unable to see the race. Bray said Sunday that track officials did not have an exact number.
"We don't have any idea at this point," Bray said. "We're processing all this. We are making every effort to work through it. We understand the frustration of all those that are involved. Just rest assured we are working on a plan."
He confirmed that traffic patterns are being studied, with the goal of improving them by next year.
Republican State Senate President David Williams, who is challenging Beshear in this fall's gubernatorial election, said Sunday that he expects improvement.
"It is unfortunate that what should have been one of the most important milestones in Kentucky sports history was marred by horrific traffic," said Williams, who himself was unable to make it to the race because he was stuck in the traffic.
"The taxpayers and the fans deserve to have these things run smoothly, especially when their resources have been invested in it," said Scott Jennings, a spokesman for Williams' campaign. "The next governor and the next legislature are going to have to look at it to figure out what we'll do to prevent this sort of situation from happening two years in a row."
Reach Valarie Honeycutt Spears at (859) 231-3409 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3409.