Kentucky Speedway

Mark Story: Speedway owner good for state — and breakfast

Gov. Steve Beshear, right, toured the expansion and improvements at Kentucky Speedway with the track's general manager, Mark Simendinger, back in March. Owner Bruton Smith said he plans further expansion if ticket sales remain brisk.
Gov. Steve Beshear, right, toured the expansion and improvements at Kentucky Speedway with the track's general manager, Mark Simendinger, back in March. Owner Bruton Smith said he plans further expansion if ticket sales remain brisk. AP

Ever had breakfast with a billionaire?

Bruton Smith, the motorsports mogul who brought Sprint Cup racing to Kentucky Speedway, will soon give you that chance.

On Sunday, July 10 — the morning after the Quaker State 400 inaugurates Cup racing in Sparta — Smith said he is throwing a free breakfast for anyone still at the Speedway.

"Stay all night after the race. Or stop by. Either way, breakfast is free," the Speedway Motorsports Inc. CEO said Friday. "We've done (a morning-after) breakfast before. We should feed about 14,000, 16,000 people. It should help us (lessen the traffic congestion) after the race."

In Louisville, Churchill Downs is days away from playing host to the 137th Kentucky Derby. In Gallatin County, Kentucky Speedway is a little more than two months away from becoming, at long last, a major-league NASCAR track.

I called the Speedway on Friday hoping to get an update on preparations. What I got along with that was a reminder of why the opinionated, colorful Smith is becoming one of my favorite Kentucky sports figures.

With the Sprint Cup-necessitated expansion of its grandstand, Kentucky Speedway will have 107,000 seats when Dale Jr., the Busch brothers and ol' Five Time race there July 9.

Even before the green flag has dropped on the first Cup race, rumblings are around that Smith may plan further expansion.

I asked the 80-something racetrack mogul if his goal was to someday see the Cup race in Sparta draw a larger crowd than the Derby in Louisville?

"We'll draw a bigger crowd than them this year," Smith said.

Whoa. The announced crowd at last year's Derby was 155,804.

"Do you really think there were that many people?" Smith said.

Uhm, I didn't count the gate, but that's what they announced.

"I've got over 900,000 seats at all my speedways," Smith said. "I know how to gauge (the size of) crowds. And I've gone to the Derby. I'm not convinced their crowd(s) are larger than what we're going to have here."

If ticket sales remain brisk, Smith said, he is considering adding 10,000-15,000 temporary seats for this year's Cup race. "We know just where we would put them," he said.

In the meantime, Smith said cement trucks were working at full blast Friday laying a new pit road that will be closer to the grandstand. "The fans," Smith said, "are going to love it."

There have also been 12 new elevators installed to make it easier for fans to navigate the two new grandstand towers, Smith said.

Kentucky Speedway's first Cup race will be part of a triple-header, with the Class AAA Nationwide Series running on Friday (July 8) and the Class AA Camping World Truck Series competing on Thursday (July 7).

Quaker State will sponsor the Cup race and the charity Feed The Children has put its name on the Nationwide event. At this point, the July truck race remains unsponsored, though Mark Simendinger, Kentucky Speedway general manager, said "we're still working on it."

To help build anticipation for the debut of Cup racing in Sparta, the Speedway ran a contest that allowed fans to suggest what the trophy that will go to the winner should look like.

A horse's head with a checkered-flag mane was recently announced as the contest victor.

I thought it was a good choice. From the pictures, the new trophy meets the task the award that goes to the winner of a any Sprint Cup-race needs to do: When you look at it, you will immediately think of one place and one place only: Kentucky.

I asked Smith his opinion of the new trophy.

"I wish you hadn't asked me that," he said.

Why so?

"I should have a talk with Mark (Simendinger) about that before I make a comment," Smith said.

Meaning you're not a fan of the new trophy?

"Kentucky Speedway has got to have a trophy for this inaugural event that the winning driver and his heirs will cherish for all time," Smith said.

We might need to stay tuned for a further announcement on the Kentucky Speedway Cup-race trophy. Or maybe not.

This much is certain: Having Bruton Smith as a prominent player in Kentucky sports is going to be fun.

As we say in the trade, he's good copy.

Apparently, he's good for a free breakfast, too.

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