Kentucky Speedway officials had one chance to get it right.
And they botched it.
Traffic on Interstate 71 was backed up for at least 15 miles Saturday. The jam started about eight hours before the race began. Some fans who finally crawled close to the track were turned away because all the parking lots were full. Other access roads to the track had been closed, assuming that would ease the traffic flow.
Fans also complained about long lines to use portable bathrooms and backups in the concessions stands.
This was the inaugural NASCAR Sprint Cup event at the track, although the property has been staging races for 11 years. The Quaker State 400 was billed as one heck of a coming-out party, in line with the Kentucky Derby and University of Kentucky basketball games.
It had been a tough road to get to this point.
The original track owners filed an antitrust suit against NASCAR in federal court in 2008 for not awarding them a Cup race. They eventually gave up the fight and sold the track to Bruton Smith in Jan. 1, 2009.
Smith, the president of Speedway Motorsports Inc. that owns seven other tracks, should have known better. The lack of planning and preparation is unfathomable, given Smith's expertise. The sellout crowd of 107,000 certainly deserved better.
After a flood of mea cuplas and "we're sorry" emails and offers of free tickets and such, the focus shifts to next year. It's highly unlikely NASCAR would yank that date from the track, but it's very likely thousands of frustrated customers won't bother coming back.
"I'm not concerned about Talladega, Daytona, Las Vegas or other properties," said Joie Chitwood, president of Daytona International Speedway. "But there might have been new NASCAR fans who were there. Who knows if it turns off people to our sport altogether. ... I'm concerned about the damage it does to our sport in general."
In tough economic times when fans are spending their disposable dollars more cautiously, Smith and his gang just gave them a good reason to forget about NASCAR.
"There has never been a more sensitive time in our sport to make sure the fan has a great experience," ESPN NASCAR analyst Ricky Craven said.
That was the ironic thing about this fiasco: Kentucky got the first part right. Track officials generated so much buzz that they got a sellout. That's a big get for a sport still trying to keep its stride in recessive times. Witness the empty backstretch along Daytona International Speedway a few weeks ago for the Coke Zero 400.
But one basic thing about customer service: Never, ever, make the paying public mad.
"This situation cannot happen again," NASCAR Chairman Bruce France said.
France is right, but here's the thing:
It never should have happened in the first place.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun