The mass traffic congestion entering Kentucky Speedway for the Quaker State 400 on Saturday was the dominant story of the first Sprint Cup race in Sparta. Speedway general manager Mark Simendinger talked about the issues that caused the traffic jam.
Question: Were you expecting people to have so much trouble getting into the track?
Answer: "Um, no, we weren't. We're learning a lot today."
Q: Such as?
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A: "We are finding out about traffic patterns, infrastructure improvements we can make, parking field improvements we can make. All of those type things. We've taken a lot of aerial photographs at different times of the day to see how we can do things better. I'm confident there are a lot of good things we can do.
"I'm not happy with the amount of traffic, the delays we've had coming into the parking fields. But, overall, it's hard not to be still pretty enthusiastic about the overall event. There is a lot of enthusiasm, and there are a lot of people who want to come here. If the biggest challenge facing us is improving how to get people into the track, then, you know, that's not the worst thing in the world.
"It's certainly something we will look into over the next 12 months to make sure, by next year, we've got a whole new plan and things are a lot better."
Q: Was the traffic plan different this year for incoming traffic, or did the number of people coming in (120,000 or so) just overwhelm the infrastructure?
A: "We spent a lot of time on our traffic plan. One thing is, this is an inaugural event. What happens in an inaugural event is that fans learn at the same time the track does.
"(Fans) learn about parking in remote areas. The track can only handle so many cars. Just like any other big event. You go to a Reds game, the Reds don't provide all the parking, but people know where to go. Churchill Downs does not provide all on-site parking (at the Kentucky Derby). But everyone knows where they go, they know their ways around, because they have been doing it for 130 years.
"Our fans coming in here, they don't know the guy across the street is parking and that it is a lot better to just go there, check in with him, get off the road and walk the mile or half a mile or whatever it might be to a tram.
"This is a little bit of a conditioning process on both sides. A lot of improvements we are seeing today we need to make. So we're certainly learning a lot. As our fans get used to (the Cup race), they'll realize that coming down Route 42 from Cincinnati is a much better way to come in than everybody coming down the interstate."
Q: What was the big bottleneck?
A: "Obviously, the biggest problem we have is at the Route 35 exit (57) off of I-71. I think we've got to take a hard look at that and how we deal with and how we alleviate some of that. Because the amount of traffic that we generated tonight, that spot certainly cannot handle."
Q: Do you know how many people with tickets were turned away?
A: "I have no idea. You know, the thing about it is, we have a finite amount of parking. When we get done with our parking, all we tell them is, 'We don't have anywhere for you to park.'
"I don't control everybody else's lot or yard or everything else. There are a lot of other yards and lots. It's like at Churchill Downs, if you are at Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Derby, did they turn you away if you can't find a place to park?"
Q: Is there any thought of refunds for people who had tickets but could not get into the track for the race?
A: "We're going to have to take some time and get the facts. We'll figure out what we are going to do. We're certainly going to do something for the fans. We'll just have to see what the scope is. ... We're going to be thinking about that kind of stuff."
Q: So how many total people were here?
A: "I have no idea. A lot. An awful lot."