Opened in 2000, the Kentucky Speedway went through its first decade of racing filling its schedule with every type of racing except for a Sprint Cup race. The track hosted Indycar & the Indy Lights series from 2000-2011 along with NASCAR’s Busch (now Nationwide) Series and truck racing. It took a few years of prolonged legal battles, but a NASCAR Sprint Cup race was finally awarded to Kentucky for 2011.
What should have been a great moment for the region was an unfortunate embarrassment as the local infrastructure was overwhelmed by the traffic coming into Sparta, Kentucky for the race. Upwards of ten thousand race fans missed the race entirely as traffic snaked up onto I-71.
Since then, track ownership has invested time and money into improving the experience. Of course, after what happened in 2011, it’s been an uphill battle to earn the fans’ trust back. For those who want to return, they will find a heavily improved experience worthy of hosting a Sprint Cup race. While the track can’t boast of a long history, the Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway has quickly carved out its own niche in the NASCAR schedule.
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Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
There's an impressive selection of food and drinks to choose from at Kentucky Speedway. All fried everything, including a giant Bojangles chicken BUS on the concourse that is incredibly popular throughout the day. Amongst the typical fare, there are burgers & pork tenderloin sandwiches ($9), turkey legs ($9) and even a stand for lighter options with veggie burgers and grilled chicken wraps.
A highlight amongst all the choices is from the Kentucky Stillhouse stand, which serves a number of burgers using Jim Beam bourbon in their sauces (like a Bourbon BBQ burger & the Kentucky Fire Chili burger). They also serve funnel cake fries with bourbon ball chocolate sauce.
The beer selection is pretty simple, with tallboy domestics of Budweiser, Coors Light and Miller Lite going for $7 (Heineken is $8). As for hard liquor options, even though we're near bourbon country, I'd recommend trying a cocktail ($9) from Ole Smoky Moonshine, a small distillery in Gatlinburg, TN.
Bottled water is $4, less than ideal on such a hot day, but it is available at numerous stands and there are water fountains for free if you don't feel like ponying up.
A critique we had in a previous review was a lack of points of sale, which lead to long lines waiting for food. It appears now that has been addressed quite well. The addition of food carts on the concourse help to spread the crowds out so the lines are more bearable. There is no wait for service at stands toward the edges of the grandstands.
The Kentucky Speedway is known to racing teams as "The Roughest Track In NASCAR." The reason for this is the driving surface has a bumpier texture than most tracks, forcing modifications to cars to allow for higher clearance underneath and different wheels that allow for a heavier traction to the surface.
The rough surface creates more room for a driver to make a mistake (especially in the front straightaway), allowing for the chance of some competitive racing. For the second year in a row, it rained before the 2014 race, adding the additional obstacle of wet spots for drivers to navigate around. Some drivers have said they actually enjoy the challenge of the track, but of course, some are not fond of the rough surface. After finishing 5th in 2014, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. remarked to the Cincinnati Enquirer about the surface, "It just sucks, man." Kyle Busch was a bit more nuanced with his criticism, suggesting that certain portions of the track be repaved to make driving it more enjoyable.
While views are great from nearly every section of the grandstands, due to the bank of suites that sit atop the lower level centered at the finish line, some views on the inside sections of both the Quaker State and Kentucky towers have some obstructed views of said finish line. If you do sit in those areas, try to choose seats higher up to avoid the obstruction.
If this will be your first race, keep the high noise level in mind. The constant roar of the engines, which is a part of the experience, can wear on your hearing so you'd be smart to bring either earplugs or headphones to dampen it.
There's still not much around the track besides a couple gas stations and a Ramada hotel. The community of campers becomes a small town for the weekend but other than that, the closest town is Warsaw, KY, about 10 minutes north on SR-35. It's a small community that sits on the Ohio River and does have a few restaurants including a Dairy Queen (616 E. Main), burgers and sandwiches at Sunset Grill, and more casual fare at Jewell's on Main.
If you follow SR-1039 north from the track, the Belterra Casino is about 15 minutes away, just over the Ohio River in Florence, Indiana. There's a sizable hotel, numerous restaurants and golfing. Otherwise, you'll have to make the hour drive back to either Cincinnati or Louisville to get some entertainment options.
There are a few baseball teams in the area with the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park, the Florence Freedom (in the independent Frontier League) in the Cincinnati suburb of Florence, KY at UC Health Stadium and Louisville has the Bats (AAA affiliate of the Reds) at Louisville Slugger Field. Combining a ballpark trip with a visit to Kentucky Speedway is a good way to round out a sports weekend.
Fans didn't let the rain, then crushing humidity ruin the race experience in 2014. People were all over the facility pre-race either checking out the displays and merchandise on the concourse or in the infield fan zone trying to catch a glimpse of the cars and their favorite drivers.
Since the infamous 2011 race, the track has done a lot of PR to try and win the fans' trust back. Though 2012 took a hit in attendance, the next two races have shown attendance growth. The crowd in 2014 was lively and, given the improved parking and traffic flow, that trend should continue in the coming years.
The track is located in Sparta, Kentucky which is basically halfway between Cincinnati, Ohio and Louisville, Kentucky. It'd be wise to get there as early as possible. The speedway's website recommends arriving at least 4 hours before the race and this bore out as cars that showed up early reached the lots with relative ease. Just be aware of the route needed to reach your designated parking lot. Once you exit the highway, lanes are separated by cones, if you're not sure which lane you're supposed to be in, it may be difficult to get over. Be sure to check the maps on the track's site.
Kentucky Speedway is infamous for both the traffic delays that occurred at the first ever race here back in 2000 and then again at the inaugural NASCAR race here in 2011. On both occasions, traffic snarled up onto I-71, causing thousands of fans to miss the entirety of their races. After the 2011 race, the Speedway ownership group and local authorities undertook drastic measures to overhaul car ingress and egress around events. Highway patrol officers are posted in a number of areas to direct traffic. Also, answering one of fans' biggest complaints, the track added an additional 20,000 paved parking spots and laid gravel over lots that were previously grass.
As long as you give yourself enough time, you shouldn't encounter any problems heading to the track. From the parking lots, there are a number of shuttles to move people to the stands.
From Cincinnati, the first exit for the track is #57 where traffic is forced north onto S.R. 35. From Louisville, you'll hit exit #55, then head north on S.R. 1039 to the entrance at Kentucky Speedway Boulevard. Gates 1, 2, and 3 sit along 35, with the other gates looping counter-clockwise around the speedway.
Leaving, however is a bit trickier as everyone heads for the gates at the same time. The access roads are shifted to utilize all lanes to move traffic away from the lots and to I-71. Though officers are there to assist in directing traffic, there will absolutely be delays in getting on the highway so either leave the race early or just be patient.
Non-premium tickets for the Quaker State 400 start at $59 (before fees) and go up to $109.
There are a number of extras you can buy to add to the race experience. The biggest expense would be a Fan Zone pass. The $100 gets you access to features in the infield including access to the garages during pre-race inspection, access to pit road, possible run-ins with drivers, and more. This may not be worth it to the casual race fan, but die-hards will obviously love the increased access.
There are also stands renting a/v equipment so you can watch either various camera feeds of the race on a small portable device ($60 for both the Sprint Cup race & the Nationwide race the day before) or a scanner ($35) to listen to the various channels of audio of driver's teams. If you don't feel like shelling out for this, you can access the radio feed of the race via an app like TuneIn or IHeartRadio. Just search for the "Performance Racing Network" to find the broadcast. PRN also has its own free app on both Apple and Android phone stores. The only downside to the phone option is the feed will lag behind the race a bit, but at least it gives you some context to what's going on and you don't have to pay extra for it.
If you forget earplugs, you can rent noise-reducing headphones for $30 (but they are free for kids).
All this can quickly add up, but can easily be avoided without hampering your experience too much.
Campsites run from $100 for tents up to $500 or $600 for RV campsites with electricity access. Making a weekend out of the event can really add to the overall experience.
One point for the large amount of pre-race activity including vendor areas and the pre-race concert (most recently it was country singer Thomas Rhett). There is plenty to keep a fan occupied before the race.
One point for the add-ons, and the ability to enjoy the race with or without them. The extra features you can buy will be great for some people, but for those who might not enjoy or utilize things like the video feeds, a fan can tailor the race to their own enjoyment and not have to spend a bunch more money.
One point for the "personality" of the speedway. The rough surface, much to the chagrin of the drivers, has become a signature for Kentucky. In its short history, it has made its mark on the schedule.
One point for the fact that this is also the only active track NASCAR where legend Jeff Gordon has never won. As well, it's one of only four tracks where Jimmie Johnson has never won a NASCAR race.
So the start of NASCAR racing here in Kentucky had its troubles, but since then, ownership has taken responsibility for the issues and has done a great deal to fix things. A first-time race attendee here now probably wouldn't realize the problems that affected events in the past. What you should expect going forward is a fun atmosphere for a mid-season NASCAR race on what has become one of the more challenging tracks on the schedule. In addition to the Sprint Cup race, the speedway offers a full schedule of NASCAR Truck & Nationwide Series as well as ARCA series racing to enjoy.
Being a little over a decade old, Kentucky Speedway isn’t one of NASCAR’s most recognized tracks… yet. Opened on June 16th, 2000, this 1.5 mile speedway has taken a path to NASCAR’s highest level, the Sprint Cup, in a manner that has been reserved more for the legal circuit than the racing circuit.
When Jerry Carroll and his group of four investors announced that they were going to invest $153 million into a racing oval that now holds roughly 107,000 fans in Sparta, Kentucky, the battle to win over NASCAR’s ultimate prize, a date on the Sprint Cup schedule, had officially begun. Although the Camping World Truck Series, the Nationwide Series, the Indy Car Series, and the Firestone Indy Lights Series have all raced at Kentucky Speedway, Carroll did not officially begin recruiting the Sprint Cup Series until 2005.
While formerly recruiting the Sprint Cup Series, Carroll did one thing hardly anyone would have expected he would have: He sued NASCAR and International Speedway Corporation claiming that the way the two handled the awarding of dates to tracks was in violation of federal anti-trust laws. The lawsuit would initially last for three years until the lawsuit was dismissed in 2008.
After losing the lawsuit, Carroll sold the track to Speedway Motorsports Inc which is owned by the wealthy and powerful Bruton Smith. He also agreed to drop any further legal actions against NASCAR with regards to his lawsuit in 2009, but a few owners in his investment group made the decision to sue him in order to extend the lawsuit against NASCAR and ISC.
Finally in 2010, NASCAR settled with the former owners of the track and made the official announcement that everyone in Central and Northern Kentucky had wanted to hear since the beginning of construction - Kentucky Speedway was on the Sprint Cup schedule for 2011.
On July 9, 2011 NASCAR welcomed Kentucky Speedway into the Sprint Cup with the inaugural running of the Quaker State 400. Despite the main story being over 20,000 fans missing the race due to traffic jams, the race itself was run very effectively with Kyle Busch taking the checkered flag.
Used Kentucky as our once-a-year vacation spot for the first Cup race a few years back. As the weekend went on the racing got worse and worse. The trucks always put on a good show. The nationwide was decent. And then the Cup cars raced and it was single file the WHOLE race.
The facility is pretty nice, but nothing spectacular.
Traffic was awful as noted in the review. We left our hotel early and still took us 4 hours to travel the last 1 mile into the track. NOBODY WAS DIRECTING CARS WHERE TO PARK.
During the race the concessions ran out of food.
After the race weekend Track owner Bruton Smith said nobody would get refunds (even the fans that were turned away due to a lack of parking). He did allow people to turn in their tickets for a ticket to another race the same year... excuse me??
I won't be returning to another track owned by Bruton Smith. EVER.
On a spur of a moment we decided to make our way to the Kentucky Speedway to catch a weekend of racing. We made our way to Sparta to exit 57 off Interstate 71 and arrived Friday morning after a night stay in Lexington. There is nothing, except a few gas stations, when you turn toward the track. We were going to camp that evening and was looking for a spot to park in one of the camping areas. But it seems that everywhere we went they wanted to see our race tickets before we could park. We explained that we just drove in and was going to get tickets at the gate. This was even more confusing until we finally found an older gent that got us parked in the Ponderosa camp area to set up our tent. Make sure you read the KSpeedway internet site because it is confusing as hell to you and the parking attendant as to what should be done.
Friday race and Saturday's race was like watching a merry-go-round as little action happened on the track. Once a racer was ahead, they were fine because no one can pass on the track. (or at least the good teams could not pass) the races were boring.
The seating was nice but thought the ticket prices were high for a race with plenty of empty seats. You can take a cooler into the track but NO alcoholic beverages. They say it is a State law but I feel sure if NASCAR was to threaten to pull out the law can get changed quickly. Do like someone sitting down from us, pour your beer into gatorade bottles and no one is wiser.
Friday night after the first race we looked forward to scoping out the tailgating and parties. But little was going on around us. It was like the place was a senior citizens camping area. We are not rowdy people but like seeing people having a good time. Other than people sitting by small fires, it was quiet. Perhaps there was an area with entertainment but not in, or close to, the Ponderosa area.
Other than the attendants not knowing what was going on around the track or where anything is located, the fans were friendly and helpful. Enjoyable time just talking with people from other parts of the country.
This is not a track I would ever return to watch a race. Just never felt like a NASCAR race with NASCAR fans. It needs a shot of Daytona, Talladega or Darlington to liven things up.
Perhaps it would have been better if we had researched the track and the festivities going on that weekend. We did not and learned a valuable lesson. But no research could have helped the actual race.
1160 U.S. 42
Warsaw, KY 41095
525 Dale Dr
Sparta, KY 41086