Mary Jane Day loved welcoming racing fans and vendors to her backyard bed and breakfast cabin in Sparta, Kentucky during NASCAR racing weekends.
Day, 75, opened Backwood Acres Bed and Breakfast in 2008 after she and her husband were unable to raise their cows due to their husband’s tractor accident. The cabin is tucked away in the woods five miles north of the route. Her guests liked to fish in a nearby pond and take scenic walks; she would have booked it nine months in advance for the NASCAR race weekend.
She heard that Kentucky Speedway would not be hosting the NASCAR Cup Series over the radio in 2021. She knew it would have a devastating effect on the local economy.
“It’s going to hurt,” said Day.
Kentucky Speedway races have been immersed in the culture and economy of Sparta, Ky for two decades.
The loss of the NASCAR series comes after the speedway was moved from two race weekends to one this year, with the fall races in the Xfinity and Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series being moved to Las Vegas last weekend.
Without the races, the city will lose part of its identity. There won’t be NASCAR fans in local hotels, restaurants, or bars every summer.
The owners of Kentucky Speedway, Speedway Motorsports, decided to move the racing from Sparta to Atlanta Motor Speedway. When a NASCAR schedule is created, track owners choose which of their tracks will get which races.
Marcus Smith, CEO of Speedway Motorsports, spoke to FOX NASCAR about the decision on Wednesday afternoon. His explanation did not go into details.
“It was difficult, but it was the right business decision,” said Smith.
Over the years, the series brought jobs, wider freeways, and even an airport to Gallatin County, Kentucky’s second smallest county.
It is estimated that Kentucky Speedway will lose up to 30 jobs, said Ryan Morris, the district’s top elected official, Gallatin County.
The roads that were built for traffic on the race weekend will be preserved. And a new, federally funded airport, which was once supposed to be used by NASCAR fans, is still being built.
The $ 152 million route first opened in 2000. Now it is becoming a multi-purpose rental complex. Special events, commercial television productions, music festivals, other racing series and stand-alone RV rallies and camping events are planned.
“Change is tough at times, but I look forward to the many opportunities our facility has to offer,” said Mark Simendinger, executive vice president and general manager of Kentucky Speedway, in a released statement
The announcement “shocked” Morris and worried business owners.
When the speedway opened, tens of thousands of fans flocked to the track for the IndyCar and ARCA Menards Series races. It hosted its first NASCAR series in 2011.
When NASCAR came to town, the crowd swelled and a lot changed for Sparta, where 231 people live.
Infrastructure improvements supported the route
In 2011, NASCAR fans flocked to Sparta for the first Quaker State 400. They blocked the roads leading to the speedway, according to The Enquirer Archives. Some fans gave up and turned around while others were turned away when they reached the track.
In 2012, a new traffic plan for the weekend included more than $ 11 million that the state and the freeway had spent improving infrastructure around the venue, according to The Enquirer’s archives.
The state spent $ 3.7 million to help Ky. 35 expand north of the interstate to five lanes and take the south exit on Ky. 35 to widen. It also built a 42 foot wide pedestrian tunnel under Ky. 35, which connected the expressway to a new 171 hectare car park opposite the state road.
The next major infrastructure investment near the expressway took place last summer.
A small $ 25 million airport is being built about three miles from the expressway near Park Ridge Road. It’s an idea that has been around since the early 1990s but got the funding it needed last summer.
The Federal Aviation Administration will handle most of the project. The state spent $ 5 million to get the land for the 500-acre airport.
Part of the project was also funded with federal funds. One of the funding for the grant should come from taxes levied on users on airline tickets and aviation fuel, according to a press release from Rep. Thomas Massie.
It is unclear whether this was specifically linked to this airport or to others in Kentucky.
Those infrastructure improvements are no longer a matter of dispute now that NASCAR is out of town, Morris said. He added that they hope other racing companies will use the track, such as the IndyCar series.
He said local residents drive on better roads; other companies look forward to using the airport.
Several companies sent letters of support to the airport, including two companies in Ghent, about 20 minutes from Sparta: North American Stainless and Nucor, another steel company
Still, NASCAR’s exit will hurt the local economy, said Morris. He estimated that local businesses will lose hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue.
The job loss begins on the speedway.
“A lot of the people who work there will lose their jobs because of it,” said Morris. “They are friends of mine. It hurts when your friends hurt.”
Business owners get angry
Every Sparta company will lose revenue as a result of NASCAR’s departure, Day said. She chairs the Gallatin County’s Tourism Committee and is well connected with other small business owners.
She was able to book her cabin for the race weekends at least nine months in advance, she told The Enquirer. She usually made about $ 500 a week if someone rented all week, she said.
She hopes another racing company will bring business to town to help the hotels and restaurants.
“It will affect our county. Not just our county, but also the surrounding counties,” she said.
Guy Cummins, co-owner of This and That BBQ restaurant in Florence, Kentucky, used the races to advertise. He said his restaurant name was on up to 11 cars in the Cup series at Kentucky Speedway.
“The drivers wrote my name on their cars and I brought them some barbecues,” he said. “That was good advertising for me.”
Area leaders wondered what NASCAR’s absence would do to other parts of northern Kentucky.
“Not only was the announcement tough on our Kentucky Speedway, it was another blow to our hotels, bars, restaurants and retail businesses,” said Brent Cooper, President and CEO of the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce. “At a time when they have already been hit by the pandemic, they now face another economic challenge.”
John Ellison, chairman of the board of directors of meetNKY, the Northern Kentucky Convention & Visitors Bureau, feared that places like the Ark Encounter, Newport Aquarium and the Cincinnati Zoo would also feel the loss.
“The entire northern Kentucky tourism industry is disappointed with NASCAR’s decision to cancel the July Cup Series event at Kentucky Speedway,” Ellison said in a statement.
Julia is the Northern Kentucky government reporter for the Report For America program. Anonymous donors are committed to covering the local donor portion of their grant-funded position with The Enquirer. If you would like to support Julia’s work, you can donate to her Report For America position on this website or email their editor, Carl Weiser, at cweise[email protected] to find out how you can fund their work.
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