Saturday's traffic situation before and after the inaugural Kentucky Speedway NASCAR race was every bit as bad as people feared. In fact, it was even worse.
A long line of headlights could be seen trying to make it into the track even 90 minutes after the race had started. Those cars were still being allowed to access the track entrance for the first half of the race, but then they suddenly started being turned away.
Track officials parked cars everywhere they could, but there weren't enough parking spaces for everyone. The traffic pattern was eventually switched to an outward-bound flow, and those fans who had sat in four or five or even six hours of traffic only to finally reach the track were being sent home.
All that effort, all that exhausted patience – and all that money spent on tickets and travel – was wasted. It had to be a sickening feeling for diehard fans who were determined to get to the race no matter what.
Kentucky Speedway might never get those fans to give the track another shot. Between the traffic and basic infrastructure issues (the track didn't have enough portable toilets outside the venue for those who arrived before the gates opened), some fans have already said they won't return.
But if Kentucky Speedway truly wants to make things right, here are five steps the track can take immediately.
The track released a statement with 100 laps to go acknowledging the traffic issues and pledging to fix them for next year, but there was no public apology.
Kentucky officials – including Bruton Smith – need to use the words "sorry" and "apologize" sooner than later. It's hard to start forgiving when no one has apologized yet.
2. REFUND UNUSED TICKETS
It should be easy enough for the track to determine if a ticket was used or not. Fans who were turned away should be issued an immediate, full refund of their ticket. And as a gesture of goodwill, those fans should get a free ticket to next year's Sprint Cup Series race.
Those who made it to the race but arrived late due to the traffic should be offered some sort of discount on next year's event by showing their ticket stubs from Saturday.
3. STOP MAKING EXCUSES
Bruton Smith can criticize I-71 all he wants, but surely he knows the interstate wasn't the primary culprit. The track didn't have enough parking spaces to accomodate all the fans – general manager Mark Simendinger told NASCAR.com that the speedway didn't anticipate so many cars – and so the traffic can't all be blamed on the highway.
If track officials had a better traffic pattern once cars exited I-71 – there were two wide open lanes leading to the track not being utilized for inbound traffic, for example – then the backup would have been significantly decreased.
Places like Daytona and Talladega routinely see crowds of way more than 107,000 without this kind of backup. It was simply a matter of poor planning.
4. DON'T WAIT FOR THE STATE
The governor of Kentucky was the grand marshal at last night's race, and numerous local and state officials were in attendance.
When Smith said 15,000 to 20,000 fans were turned away from the race, he was exaggerating to paint the worst picture possible for the politicians (in reality, the number was likely closer to 5,000). Whether it's tax breaks or aid for infrastructure or strong-arming local police, Smith is a master manipulator whose complaints and threats get taken seriously.
In that regard, the traffic issue was a great way for Smith to lean on the politicians for help with roads or perhaps the airport he wants to build nearby. Perhaps the situation spiraled beyond his control.
Smith, who has done wonderful things for NASCAR fans at many of his tracks, needs to step up and make the necessary fixes without waiting for anyone else to help. After screwing this one up, he owes the fans that much.
5. REPAVE AND RECONFIGURE THE TRACK
Drivers were shocked at the rough condition of the track surface, and the one-groove racetrack made for a boring night of racing.
NASCAR should probably be thankful the traffic issues were the top story, because it took away the spotlight from a race that basically stunk.
"I think the only thing that made this a great race today was the green-white-checkered and the excitement and energy of the fans," Jeff Gordon said afterward. "I think when Bruton is looking at how to get the traffic in here, he's going to have to look at the racetrack as well. It's rough. It's really hard to pass. The (traffic) layout needs a little help, but the surface (needs help) most importantly, to give these fans what they really deserve."
In more ways than one, the Kentucky fans deserved much more than they got last night.