Fans at Kentucky Speedway face heat, high winds ahead of Quaker State 400

mstory@herald-leader.comJune 29, 2012 

SPARTA — Those who arrived at Kentucky Speedway on Friday beat the traffic expected for Saturday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Quaker State 400, but they did have to cope with extreme weather: first heat, then wind.

A strong wind during qualifying for the race led to the evacuation of the track grandstands and resulted in some injuries Friday afternoon.

Kentucky Speedway General Manager Mark Simendinger said preliminary reports were that three people had been treated at the infield care center. "Two were treated and released, and one was transported, but I was told that none of the injuries were serious," Simendinger said.

NASCAR spokesman Kerry Tharp said Milan Rudanovic, a pit crew member for Turner Motorsports driver Brad Sweet in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, was taken to the hospital. "My information is he is expected to be fine," Tharp said.

The gusting winds blew down several display tents around the Speedway. Simendinger said the tents were being evaluated to see whether they could be rebuilt for Saturday evening's Cup race.

Despite the wind and accompanying dark clouds, it never rained at the track, and Cup qualifying resumed, with Jimmie Johnson winning the pole.

Before the windstorm, the temperature at the Speedway was as high as 101 degrees, according to Weather.com. Afterward, the temperature was 76.

As temperatures soared earlier in the day, race fans set up with coolers, strategically placed fans and inflatable swimming pools.

Across from the track, vendors surrounded the lone BP gas station, selling race-related gear, jewelry, headsets and other merchandise to a sparse crowd.

Mike Hammar, founder and CEO of USAMisters, laughed while describing his decision to become a vendor as the "adventure of a lifetime." Despite the heat, the entrepreneur, who drove from Irvine, Calif., said his $15 spray fans — the first product of his recent business venture — can't compete with the amenities of recreational vehicles.

"It's a challenge," Hammar said. "All the vendors here are suffering."

Rich Scott and his wife have had their feet in a wading pool since Wednesday. The couple drove to the track from Madison, Ind., and they avoided traffic both this year and last year by using a simple strategy:

"You come early, you don't get stuck in traffic," Scott said. "People that wait until the last minute, they're in trouble."

Don Allnutt and Chris Mills of Owenton drank Powerade, water and tea from a cooler that they used as a footrest inside a tent pitched near the racetrack.

"If it wasn't for this awning, it would be unbearable," Allnutt said.

Mills said he expects traffic to be much better this year than last year, when major delays caused a public-relations crisis, but he said delays are inevitable.

"It's impossible to get 110,000 people in here and there not be some kind of backup," he said.

Frankfort police officer Joel Dunmire spent the day directing traffic near the track. He gave the parking system a thumbs-up: "It seems to be working well, right here at least," he said.

Mark Story: (859) 231-3230. Email: mstory@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @markcstory. Blog: markstory.bloginky.com

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