When NASCAR’s biggest stars return to Kentucky Speedway in 2017, they will find a reduced grandstand.
Kentucky Speedway General Manager Mark Simendinger said the track has removed 20,000 seats from what had been a grandstand with a seating capacity of 106,000.
“We just, honestly, had too many seats,” Simendinger said Wednesday.
The work that removed the seats was mostly done in January, Simendinger said. The seats that are gone were those located closest to the entry into Turn 1 and to the exit of Turn 4, 10,000 on each side.
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“Those seats were the least desirable ones we had,” Simendinger said. “If I have the opportunity to take out seats that really weren’t the best and have those people sit in a better area, they are probably going to have a better experience … and I’ll probably have a better chance of having them come back.”
When Kentucky Speedway opened in 2000, the grandstand had a capacity of 66,000.
After Bruton Smith’s Speedway Motorsports Inc., bought the track from the original Jerry Carroll-fronted ownership group and then announced plans to move a Cup Series race from Atlanta Motor Speedway to Sparta in 2011, the grandstands were expanded to 106,000 seats.
The first Cup race at Kentucky Speedway was a sellout, though the experience was marred for thousands of fans by the “Car-mageddon” traffic jam that prevented many ticket holders from making it onto the Speedway grounds to see the race.
Since that initial Quaker State 400, Kentucky Speedway has never come close to again selling out its grandstand.
In recent years, many other NASCAR tracks have also reduced capacity as ticket sales have softened, often substantially.
“I’ve wanted (to reduce capacity) since (the 2011 expansion),” Simendinger said.
With 86,000 seats in its grandstands, Kentucky Speedway will still be one of the larger tracks on the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series circuit.
Said Simendinger: “Eighty-six thousand is huge. We’re still big. But (the reduction) gets us a lot closer to where we need to be.”
The seventh Quaker State 400 will be July 8 at 7:30 p.m.