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Businesses hit and miss during race week

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By Jeff McKinney
Kentucky News Content Service

The inaugural Quaker State 400 brought mixed results for businesses near the Kentucky Speedway, with some left wondering why the expected windfall fell short.

Tricia Houston, owner of Napoleon Grocery & Deli and Napoleon Ridge Farm in Napoleon about eight miles from Sparta, was among those disappointed in the results.

After investing about $2,500 to rent space to set up a food concession across from the track for the entire race week, Houston only sold about 15 meals in four days and called it her “worst business experience ever.”

However, sales at the Sunset Grille in Warsaw were up roughly 50 percent on the Wednesday and Thursday of the race week compared with those weekdays typically, owner Dan Fuehner said. The gain came from race fans and campers attending the race, he said.

“The race definitely made it a good week for us,” he said.

The race attracted more than 107,000 visitors to the area and state officials estimated the race would net an economic impact of $150 million to Kentucky’s tourism business.

Adjusting for next year

Besides hoping the city and county can avoid colossal traffic jams that trapped thousands of fans outside the racetrack this year, business owners also plan to make some changes to better prepare for next year’s race.

Houston plans to scrap the concession stand next year and stick with operating her deli, which did three times more business than normally during the race week.

“To avoid the level of anxiety experienced this year, I will not do a concession next year,” Houston said.

Jane Searcy, owner of Hog Wild Pig Crazy Bar-BQ in Sparta, said many people were not taking the time to shop or eat because traffic congestion shifted their focus to merely getting to the Kentucky Speedway, particularly on Friday and Saturday.

Searcy, who owns the restaurant with her husband, Bob, said her sales during race week were lower than a typical week.

She assumed sales would be “substantially” higher since her business is just a mile from the track.

“Their concern about just seeing the race resulted in less business for us,” Searcy said.
But the news was not all bad at Hog Wild Pig Crazy. One bright spot came when NASCAR truck series driver Steve Arpin stopped by for lunch one day and took time to sign autographs and take pictures with young racing fans.

“Despite the traffic problems, the drivers put forth all of their efforts to entertain their fans,” Searcy said.

She said her other business, the Bistro & Lounge in the Ramada Inn at the Speedway, had a slight revenue gain but was not what she expected.

“The slight gain was puzzling given the hotel was sold out,” Searcy said.

At the IGA in Warsaw, the supermarket saw a small increase in sales during race week but not what manager Keith Jones had hoped for.

On Saturday, with cars bumper to bumper in front of the store, Jones said the store could not get anyone into its parking lot due to traffic congestion along Kentucky 42.

“We’re somewhat disappointed because we were hoping for better sales,” he said.
He said the store might do more advertising next year to let race fans know that the supermarket and other retailers in Warsaw are only five minutes from the track.

Marty Mylor, owner of the Sparta Quik Stop said his over the four-day (race) period were the best ever since he bought the business about 25 years ago.

“Business was fantastic,” he said.

But Mylor also said he knew this would be the year to learn.

“Next year we’ll order a few things differently, including more bottled water and little less firewood and cozy cups (beer coolers) for campers and fans,” Mylor said.

In Hebron, the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky had more than 200 aircraft and helicopters arrive and depart during the four-day NASCAR event, resulting in more than 400 rental car reservations and increased ground transportation for CVG, said airport spokesperson Barb Schempf

She said the airport gets a percentage of revenue for each rental car reservation.

But the biggest benefit Schempf said is that the race gave CVG an opportunity to showcase its services and generate future business from NASCAR fans.

Schempf said CVG plans to conduct a post event debriefing the next few weeks with employees to see how it can enhance services for next year’s race, including looking at how aircraft can be parked closer to the rental car area.

“The first race was a great leaning experience for our CVG team and will help us improve our services for future races,” she said.