Mark Story

Mark Story: With no bumps, what will Kentucky Speedway market?

Brad Keselowski (2) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (88) raced during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway on June 30, 2012 in Sparta, Kentucky.
Brad Keselowski (2) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (88) raced during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway on June 30, 2012 in Sparta, Kentucky. Getty Images

LOUISVILLE — Those Kentucky Speedway “bumps” commercials were such fun.

The manic trainer “helping” Sprint Cup star Joey Logano get ready for Kentucky’s famously rough racing surface by riding a mechanical bull and sleeping on a vibrating motel bed.

Those befuddled crew chiefs trying to understand the garbled speech coming over their team radios as their drivers tried to traverse the “Sparta bumps.”

That gravely-voiced announcer intoning “on the roughest track on the circuit, there’s no place to hide. The best love it. Others fear it.”

Good times. Which are now over.

Kentucky Speedway officials announced last month that the track’s mile-and-a-half tri-oval would be fully repaved for the first time since the facility opened in 2000.

On Thursday, at a media event featuring NBC NASCAR play-by-play announcer Rick Allen in downtown Louisville, Kentucky Speedway General Manager Mark Simendinger said he expects the new asphalt racing surface to go down sometime in April. The 2016 Quaker State 400 will run July 9.

In one sense, this is a bad time for Kentucky Speedway to have to undergo such a substantial change. Boosted by NASCAR’s implementation of a reduced-down force aero package, the 2015 Quaker State 400 won by Kyle Busch was the most entertaining Sprint Cup race yet run in Sparta.

I really loved our bumpy track, I’ve got to be honest about that. And I think the fans really enjoyed it. And the reason that we all liked it is because it threw variables at the drivers. The grip wasn’t great. The bumps were difficult. It made for a challenge.

Mark Simendinger, Kentucky Speedway general manager

But Simendinger said the decision to repave the track was really no decision at all.

“The fact is, the track was worn out,” he said. “So there was no decision to make.”

If you’ve wondered, the new racing surface means no more bumpy track. For Kentucky Speedway, that will mean finding a new identity in the marketplace.

“I really loved our bumpy track, I’ve got to be honest about that,” Simendinger said. “And I think the fans really enjoyed it. And the reason that we all liked it is because it threw variables at the drivers. The grip wasn’t great. The bumps were difficult. It made for a challenge.”

So now what?

Between 2011 and ’13, there were several repaves of Sprint Cup tracks. The result was a series of super-smooth, high-grip racing surfaces. On those tracks, it was easy for everyone to hit the setups on the cars and therefore most wound up running the same speeds.

That made it so hard to pass that the racing that resulted even bored the drivers.

At Kentucky Speedway, the hope is to avert that phase.

Other than its roughness, the Sparta racetrack’s most unique aspect has been the challenge drivers have faced getting off the backstretch into a tricky Turn 3.

If the bumps couldn’t be preserved, the goal at Kentucky Speedway was to enhance the degree of difficulty of Turn 3, said Steve Swift, vice president of development and operations for parent company Speedway Motorsports Inc.

To do that, Turns 1 and 2 will be altered. The banking will go from 14 degrees to 17 (the banking will remain 14 degrees in Turns 3 and 4). The width of the track will be narrowed some 20 feet in Turns 1 and 2, too.

“We’re going to steepen it up, and it gets narrower,” Swift said of Turns 1 and 2. “On restarts, they’ve got a smaller track to fight over, so they can’t spread out four-wide to get around each other.

“So it’s steeper and faster. They are really going to pick up a lot of speed coming out of 2, so it is going to be exciting to see what that creates” going into Turn 3.

Swift said SMI planned to use the composition of the surface asphalt mixture and a post-production treatment designed to strip the stickiness from the new track to prevent the racing surface from being too smooth with too much grip,.

“Hopefully, we can ‘age’ the track 3, 4 years, before the first race,” Swift said.

However the repave goes, Kentucky Speedway marketers face a whole new ballgame without the bumps.

“I think we are trading,” Simendinger said of market identities. “That’s why we did the redesign the way we did it. (Drivers) will be trading one set of adjustments (how to get over the bumps) for another (how to get into Turn 3 coming off a speedier Turn 2).

“We have to have something to hang our hat on. We don’t want our tag line to be Kentucky Speedway: More of the same.”

2016 Kentucky Speedway schedule

July 7 — NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Buckle Up in Your Truck 225

July 8 — NASCAR Xfinity Series Alsco 300

July 9 — NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Quaker State 400

Sept. 23 — ARCA Series Crosley Brands 150

Sept. 24 — NASCAR Xfinity Series VisitMyrtleBeach.com 300

  Comments