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Speedway has new owners, better chance to lure big time race

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By The Staff

Landmark News Service

It began as a dream a decade ago when Jerry Carroll announced plans to build a $130 million auto racing track in Gallatin County.

The dream intensified in 2005 when Carroll began trying to lure a NASCAR Sprint Cup race to Kentucky Speedway. Last week, it appeared as if the dream would become a reality when Speedway Motorsports Inc., owner of seven NASCAR Sprint Cup tracks, and Bruton Smith, SMI Chairman, announced they had reached a deal with Carroll to purchase Kentucky Speedway.

Documents filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission show that SMI is paying $78 million, including the assumption of $63.3 million in debt, for Kentucky Speedway, which was built for $152 million and opened in 2000. SMI has the option of terminating the agreement during a 90-day due-diligence period.

And then NASCAR stepped in, ruining the dream for the time being, announcing that the 2009 Sprint Cup Series schedule, as it stands now, does not include a stop at Kentucky Speedway.

“Regardless of ownership, we don’t see any possibility of there being a Sprint Cup Series race in Kentucky in 2009,” NASCAR spokesman Ramsey Poston said. “We are well into the sanctioning process this year and there has not even been a request to realign a date.”

The decision was different from the tune Smith was singing a day earlier at the press conference in Charlotte, N.C.

“Yes. Next year, yes,” Smith said when asked if he expected Kentucky Speedway to host a Sprint Cup race in 2009.

In a statement regarding the prospect of his track playing host to a Sprint Cup race in 2009, Carroll said, “Our group is confident that comments made by Bruton Smith, and, our agreement, will continue to come to fruition.”

Both Carroll and Smith said the sale, which is expected to close in October, had been in development for some time.

“I had a dream. My four partners had a dream with me. The state of Kentucky had a dream, and it took, really, Bruton Smith to step up and help us make the dream come true. We got what we went after. I don’t have any regrets, but it could’ve played better,” Carroll said.

Smith said the purchase was “one of the best deals” he had been able to do.

“This is a great Speedway. I do know it is a hotbed of racing and we expect to benefit greatly from what Jerry and his people have done,” Smith said.

In a statement, Gov. Steve Beshear said, “This is an exciting day for Kentucky and all NASCAR fans.”

The economic impact to the state will be tremendous. Jerry Carroll and others built this into a world-class track and their long-held dream of having a permanent home for a NASCAR Sprint Cup race may finally come true.”

According to Carroll, the current management will continue to operate the speedway through the summer and that SMI would officially take over in October.

Immediately following the announcement, all parties involved said Kentucky Speedway would have to expand upon its current capacity, which features grandstand seating for 66,089, 50 luxury suites, 10 terrace boxes and 2,100 Bluegrass Club seats. Smith said the track would need to add approximately 50,000 seats.

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