SPARTA — Pulling onto the grounds of Kentucky Speedway Tuesday afternoon, I had to throw on the brakes to allow a cement truck to cross in front of me.
To my left, a bulldozer plowed away. Heading through the tunnel into the infield, I passed coming in the opposite direction not one, not two, but three dump trucks.
You might say the race is fully on to get Kentucky Speedway ready for its inaugural Sprint Cup race July 9.
Already, the framework for two towers of additional seating have risen above the existing grandstand. When they are completed, the Speedway will have added 40,000 seats and have a capacity of 106,000.
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Workers are in the process of moving the track's pit road 200 feet closer to the grandstand because new Speedway owner Bruton Smith says the closer the pits are to the stands, the better the show is for the fans.
Around the 858 acres on which Kentucky Speedway sits, bulldozers have been working at a fevered pitch evening out land to create new camp sites. When they are through, the number of camping facilities available at the track will have almost quadrupled from 1,200 to some 4,500.
Amid all the activity, Kentucky Speedway General Manager Mark Simendinger says he recently called one of the track's original owners, Jerry Carroll.
"I said 'Jerry, I thought we had a nice Speedway before we sold it to Bruton,'" Simendinger said Tuesday at Kentucky Speedway's media construction tour. "But (Smith's) making changes we never conceived of. When you see all the improvements Bruton is making and the scope of what he is doing, it is pretty remarkable."
Last year, Smith's Speedway Motorsports Inc. invested some $20 million into the Sparta track, improving the internal road system and parking lots and adding a new bath house for fans. Now that the long-elusive Cup date is finally a reality, it is estimated that SMI will spend an additional $50 million on track expansion and enhancement.
"In this economy, what other company in any capacity is making an investment like this?" Simendinger said.
The bone-dry autumn may not be doing much for farmers in the commonwealth, but it has been a godsend to the construction crew whose task is to get Kentucky Speedway ready to play host to NASCAR's big league.
"This weather hasn't been too good for us trying to grow grass," said Steve Swift, construction manager for SMI, "but it's been great for the construction itself. We're very much on schedule, if not ahead."
Not everything is changing for the Cup. In recent years, the actual racing surface at Kentucky Speedway has had periodic issues with water seepage. Yet Swift says SMI believes it has that problem "in hand" and that there are no current plans to repave the 11/2-mile racing oval.
If everything goes perfectly, Swift says major work at the track will be done by May. If things don't go according to plan, work still has to be done by the first full week of July.
"When you work for Bruton, you get used to big jobs with tight, specific deadlines," Swift said with a smile.
Born in 1927, Smith is no spring chicken yet the motorsports mogul remains a force of nature. It is a joke among some executives from other SMI tracks that Smith is in Kentucky so much, he will soon have to start paying income tax here (which actually would be quite a boon to the commonwealth's bottom line).
Simendinger says Smith usually visits Kentucky Speedway at least one day most weeks. Often, he tours the land that sits around the track envisioning uses for it and assigning pithy nicknames to different spots.
Already, Smith has christened potential campground areas with names like Millionaire's Row, The Ponderosa and Bourbon Street.
Kentucky Speedway season tickets, which include the 2011 Cup race, are on sale now. Individual race tickets are not yet available. "Obviously," Simendinger said, "we'd like to sell out with season tickets."
For the Speedway employees who were with Carroll and the prior ownership group during their many years in the Sprint Cup wilderness, these are heady days.
Simendinger likens it to a lifetime minor-league baseball player finally getting the call to The Show.
"It's not just that we got called up," Simendinger said, "we're in the big leagues and we're doing well."
As you read this, exactly 241 days remain until you will finally see Kyle Busch, Kasey Kahne, Jimmie Johnson and the lads compete in a Sprint Cup race at Sparta.