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SBD/July 11, 2011/FacilitiesPrint All
One day after traffic backups "marred the inaugural NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Kentucky Speedway, officials apologized and promised it would not happen again," according to a front-page piece by Kevin Kelly of the CINCINNATI ENQUIRER. They also said that they "would 'announce a policy' within a week for ticketholders who missed the Quaker State 400 because of heavy traffic." Thousands of fans were "stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic on Interstate 71 and area roads for several hours before Saturday evening's race." When fans "finally reached the track, many were turned away either because parking lots were full or because the traffic flow had been reversed to accommodate race fans leaving the speedway" (CINCINNATI ENQUIRER, 7/11). Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear said that he "will work with officials at Kentucky Speedway to address the traffic flow and parking problems." But he added that it "was too early to tell whether the state would get involved in a major expansion or renovation of the interstate near the track." Kentucky Speedway Dir of Communications Tim Bray said that despite the problems, there were "at least 100,000 fans on hand for the sold-out event" (LEXINGTON HERALD-LEADER, 7/11). Kentucky Speedway GM Mark Simendinger in a Q&A after the race said, "I'm not happy with the amount of traffic, the delays we've had coming into the parking fields. But, overall, it's hard not to be still pretty enthusiastic about the overall event. There is a lot of enthusiasm, and there are a lot of people who want to come here. If the biggest challenge facing us is improving how to get people into the track, then, you know, that's not the worst thing in the world" (LEXINGTON HERALD-LEADER, 7/11).
ISSUES TO BE ADDRESSED: SPEEDTV.com's Tom Jensen noted according to numerous reports from fans, there also was a "serious shortage of portajohns in the parking areas, with waits of half an hour or more to use the facilities -- this after spending hours in traffic" (SPEEDTV.com, 7/10). The AP's Will Graves wrote Kentucky Speedway's first night on NASCAR's "biggest stage was memorable all right, but for all the wrong reasons." NASCAR Chair & CEO Brian France in a statement said that he "was 'thrilled' by the fan interest but also 'extremely disappointed' with the numerous logistical issues that hampered the event and pledged the series will work with the track operator Speedway Motorsports Inc. to get it corrected." France: "This situation cannot happen again." Graves noted there were "15-mile backups" before the race (AP, 7/10). NASCAR Senior Dir of Communications for Competition Kerry Tharp said, "We expect the track to address this head-on and have a much better situation for the fans moving forward" (USA TODAY, 7/11).
ROAD WORK AHEAD: In Kentucky, Mark Story wrote, "Saturday's race might be remembered more for the action getting into the track than for what happened on it." SMI Chair & CEO Bruton Smith said, "Hopefully the state will fix these highways. I'd do it myself, but I'm not responsible for these highways" (LEXINGTON HERALD-LEADER, 7/10). During the race, Smith said, "There's 15 to 20,000 people that won't get in here today. Traffic is horrendous. Interstate 71 is a disaster." He added, "The fans are going to see a great race today, but I'm sorry for those people outside who were not able to get in here. We created something great today, but I hope that we have not hurt ourselves" (CINCINNATI.com, 7/9). Smith also joked before the race, "We expect everybody to be home by Tuesday" (INDIANAPOLIS STAR, 7/9). Simendinger after the event said, "Did we know traffic was going to be heavy? Yeah. Did we know traffic was going to be distributed like that? I think we thought more people might take alternate routes anticipating heavy traffic. Is some of that on us? Yeah for not educating people the way we should have" (AP, 7/10)
FOCUS ON THE FANS: NASCAR driver Jimmie Johnson after the race suggested that Kentucky Speedway "put aside talk of improving the racetrack and pay more attention to the fans." Johnson: "Leave the surface alone on the racetrack and make sure that the fans have the experience they deserve to have." In Kentucky, Cole Claybourn noted NASCAR fans "took to social media to show their frustration, dubbing the mass traffic jam 'Carmageddon.'" Many said that the "origin of the problem was parking; they thought track officials lacked a solid plan to help move cars into the lots." Some drivers "were even turned away from lots where they were supposed to park and forced to search for spots elsewhere." Many speculated that track officials' "inexperience was a factor." Simendinger earlier in the week said that the track had "hired people with plenty of experience." But he acknowledged after the race, "Clearly it was beyond what we expected" (LEXINGTON HERALD-LEADER, 7/10). TNT’s Lindsay Czarniak noted, "There is no blueprint for this place, we saw this stream of cars that are trying to get here as we speak.” Referencing the 90 mincrophones around the track for the TNT broadcast, Czarniak said, "I bet a lot of people are glad in their cars that they do not have microphones with them right there because I am sure there’s a lot of cussing going on there” ("Countdown to Green," TNT, 7/9).
OFF TO A SLOW START: SI.com's Brant James wrote Saturday night's race "by all accounts was one of the most inept debuts of a facility as a big league venue in recent memory." And fans "shouldn't see their horrible experience wielded by a billionaire to pay for upgrades he admits were long overdue before he sold them a ticket" (SI.com, 7/10). In Charlotte, Jim Utter writes, "Regardless of whose responsibility it is to build new roads, Speedway Motorsports Inc. officials knew that situation existed before they agreed to host the race this year" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 7/11). Kentucky Speedway recently added around 40,000 seats, and in Virginia, Dustin Long wrote, "One should know the additional traffic more than 40,000 people would create and be better prepared for it" (HAMPTONROADS.com, 7/10). ESPN.com's Terry Blount wrote under the header, "Traffic Nightmare Spoils NASCAR's Party" (ESPN.com, 7/9). In Louisville, Eric Crawford writes, "After trying to lure this event for a decade, Kentucky Speedway -- and the state that bears its name -- have some work to do to change" the conversation (Louisville COURIER-JOURNAL, 7/11). The HERALD-LEADER's Story writes, "It would be very good public relations for Kentucky Speedway to refund the ticket cost of anyone who can prove they were turned away from entering the racetrack Saturday night due to the traffic snarl" (LEXINGTON HERALD-LEADER, 7/11).
TAKING A SHOT: Talladega Superspeedway Chair Grant Lynch yesterday in a press release "took a swipe at Kentucky Speedway while promoting that venue's upcoming Sprint Cup Series race weekend." Lynch: "After hearing how rough the fans had it at Kentucky ... I wanted to let them know that we're ready to show how a race weekend is supposed to be run." He added, "We put fan experience at the forefront of everything we do. That's why ... we work closely with the Alabama State Troopers and other organizations to ensure our fans arrive on time to see the race" (CINCINNATI ENQUIRER, 7/11).
The MLB Rangers on Friday “didn't make any immediate alterations to the height of the railings” at Rangers Ballpark, the day after fan Shannon Stone fell to his death trying to catch a foul ball tossed into the stands by Rangers LF Josh Hamilton, according to Jeff Wilson of the FT. WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM. The only change the Rangers made “was the addition of a black tarp over the area where” Stone fell, to “prevent fans from taking photos of the accident site.” Rangers President Nolan Ryan said that Arlington officials “inspected the ballpark Friday morning and said it was up to code.” Wilson noted the railing in left field is 33 inches above the walking surface, which is “7 inches higher than the minimum required in the 2003 International Building Code.” Ryan said that a “decking formerly spanned the area between the stands and the scoreboard, but Rangers officials determined it could encourage fans to step onto it while chasing a ball and possibly fall onto the field of play.” Ryan said a second falling incident at Rangers Ballpark in a span of 366 days is "disturbing." Fan Tyler Morris “suffered a fractured skull and ankle last July when he went over the railing on the second deck and fell 30 feet into the lower bowl going after a foul ball.” Ryan: "As an organization, we're going to look into this, because our No. 1 concern is the safety of our fans, and we'll do whatever we have to do to make this stadium as safe as we possibly can for our fans" (FT. WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM, 7/9). ESPNDallas.com's Richard Durrett said of the rails, "They’re just as high as they are in most parks, higher than some parks in fact. But the Rangers will try to figure what else they can do” ("Outside The Lines," ESPN, 7/8). The Rangers on Friday announced that the club’s foundation “has created a Memorial Account in honor of Shannon Stone” (DALLASNEWS.com, 7/8). In Dallas, Bruce Tomaso noted Texas Dairy Queen donated $1 “for each fan” who attended yesterday’s A’s-Rangers game to the Shannon Stone memorial fund (DALLASNEWS.com, 7/10).
NOT CHANGING TRADITION: In Dallas, Evan Grant noted fans who come to Rangers Ballpark “will still receive balls that go foul or are hit for outs that end innings.” Nolan on Friday said, “I’m certainly not going to suggest to our players that we don’t give baseballs away. It’s part of the game” (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 7/9). MLB issued a statement Friday in which it “pledged to review the accident, but issued no formal policies for its teams on the practice of tossing balls to the fans as souvenirs.” Hamilton said that he “would continue to do it occasionally.” Hamilton: “Of course, that’s what the game’s all about. Fans come, they pay to see you play, they want to have a good experience at the ballpark, and player interaction is part of that good experience. It’ll be something that you’ll look carefully at -- at the situations, where the fans are, how high they are up, what’s the railing’s like. All these things will come into play now.” In N.Y., Spousta & Zinser noted Ryan, at the Stone family’s “request, asked news organizations to refrain from replaying video of the accident.” Grief counselors “were made available” to Rangers and A’s players (N.Y. TIMES, 7/9). In Houston, David Barron wrote the accident “raises the question of what Major League Baseball should do, if anything, to regulate one of its cherished practices: the exciting lottery of coming to a ballpark and, with luck, catching a foul ball or home run or picking up a souvenir from your favorite player.” MLB Network’s Mitch Williams said, “I would be really shocked if there wasn’t a new rule that states you can no longer throw balls in the stands.” But ESPN analyst Chris Singleton “hopes MLB takes a middle road, instructing players where they can and can’t throw souvenirs, based on safety surveys of each ballpark” (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 7/9).
PROCEED WITH CAUTION: Rangers officials said that it was the “fourth fall -- and the first fatality -- at the stadium since it opened” in '94. In Dallas, Jon Nielsen wrote while “many fans say Thursday’s death was an unavoidable accident that could happen anywhere, experts said the Rangers should have taken additional safety measures after the falls.” The railing that Stone fell over is 33 inches high, but architecture consultant Jake Pauls said that he “would like to see the rails reach 42 inches.” Pauls: “It was not an accident, not a freak accident. It was a predictable, preventable event.” Some fans Friday “considered that placing protective netting underneath concourse levels or between the gap where Stone fell could help, but were afraid that more drastic measures could block out the sights of the ballgame” (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 7/10). MLB Network's Mitch Williams said, "That rail caught that man, Mr. Stone, in the middle of his thigh. ... They ought to make it to where it catches you above your bellybutton. If you’re sitting down at a seat and they put plexiglass up there and you stand up and it’s the height of just above your bellybutton, you can’t topple over that, and you can still see over it if you’re sitting” (“MLB Tonight Live,” MLB Network, 7/8).
SAFETY FIRST: Astros President of Business Operations Pam Gardner said that team staff members met Friday with risk management officers “to review safety and security measures” at Minute Maid Park. She said that the Astros “believe their plans are solid and no additional measures will be taken when the Astros return for their next homestand” (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 7/9). Marlins Senior VP/Broadcasting & Communications P.J. Loyello said that the team “is taking every precaution at its new ballpark, scheduled to open in April, to make sure fans are protected from similar accidents” (PALM BEACH POST, 7/9).