SPARTA — Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines to attend the NASCAR Sprint Cup series race later this month at Kentucky Speedway — and don't fret about nightmarish traffic tie-ups that marred the race last year.
That was the message Gov. Steve Beshear and track officials delivered Monday at a news conference at the Gallatin County track off Interstate 71 to show off about $14 million in infrastructure improvements to streamline traffic flow.
Mindful of the traffic problems at last year's Sprint Cup debut at the 107,000-seat venue, which left many visitors stranded for hours and caused tens of thousands to miss the race, Beshear pledged to race fans that the Speedway's improvements "definitely will make your life easier."
He said some delays should be expected for the three NASCAR events that make up the track's June 28 to 30 Quaker State 400 weekend because there would delays at any Sprint Cup race in the country.
"But I believe with all the improvements the state has made and all the improvements in parking that the Speedway has made that whatever delays will be very reasonable that any NASCAR fan would expect when you are trying to get 100,000 people into one place on race day."
Beshear said the state has spent $3.7 million for various projects, including expanding Ky. 35 to five lanes, widening the I-71 ramp to Ky. 35 to three lanes and building a 170-foot-long, 42-foot-wide pedestrian tunnel to connect a parking lot to the track.
The expansion of Ky. 35 includes wider shoulders that can be turned into traffic lanes, making seven lanes available on race days if necessary, said Speedway general manager Mark Simendinger.
He said the track has spent $8 million to $10 million on improving the facility, including adding 220 acres to park 20,000 more vehicles and adding gravel aisles to 100 acres of previously all-grass parking. About 33,000 parking spaces were available last year.
The track also contracted Veteran's Security and Patrol Co. as its new parking management service and partnered with engineering firm Stantec to create a simulation model to help shape a traffic management plan, Simen dinger said.
Speedway officials will work with Kentucky State Police to provide frequent race-day traffic updates through a mix of Facebook and Twitter messages, he said.
Simendinger also said the track will provide traffic updates on information radio station 1620 AM and other Kentucky, Ohio and Indiana media outlets.
Another news conference will be held June 21 to provide more traffic information, he said.
Bruton Smith, chairman and chief executive officer of Speedway Motorsports Inc., said every race track has growing pains.
"We had some, and ours happened to be traffic," he said. "There's so many fans in this part of the country. That's what created the problem. We just had too many people. We don't know yet how many that were here and tried to get here. It was probably upwards to 150,000 people tried to get into the Speedway, and we couldn't handle it."
Simendinger said that ticket sales have picked up during the past few weeks and that the track hopes for a sellout.
Track officials and Beshear know the traffic headaches of 2011 are still fresh.
While Beshear was preparing to cut a ceremonial ribbon Monday to open the Speedway's pedestrian tunnel, he told reporters he was waiting for Smith to join him.
A reporter shouted back: "He got stuck in traffic."
"Don't say that," the governor said.
Kentucky Speedway general manager Mark Simendinger talks about expectations for race day.