|NASCAR tears up the tracks in the Midwest|
|Published: May/Jun 2002
|By Sally M. Snell|
A NASCAR (National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing) race is a sensory experience so powerful, the bones hum.
You have to see it in person, said champion NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Television does not give you a sense of the speed, the color, the sounds... its like a circus that lasts all weekend. Once people see it in person, it can be addictive.
In fact, a 65 percent growth in attendance of NASCAR events from 199099 nearly triples that of major hockey, football, basketball and baseball leagues combined.
Two tracks in the Midwest make NASCAR excitement only a short drive away.
Kansas Speedway, located on the western rim of Kansas City, celebrated its inaugural season last year. Kansas Speedway currently seats 78,000 people with expansion plans for a total seating of 150,000.
Traditionally, NASCAR tracks have been based in the Southeast with only a smattering of tracks elsewhere.
In the Midwest, there was kind of a void, said Kansas Speedway Public Relations Manager Sammie Lukaskiewicz. Speedway owner International Speedway Corporation picked this place specifically because of the traffic, said Lukaskiewicz, citing good state road conditions and two major highways (Interstates 70 and 435) that meet adjacent to the speedway.
We can empty traffic in less than three hours, which is unheard of in motor sports, Lukaskiewicz said.
Arriving at the track on race day is like entering a 1,200-acre city. The facility has parking for 65,000 cars, an on-site hospital, fire and police departments, as well as extensive technical and support teams.
Were basically our own self-contained city any time we have a race, Lukaskiewicz said. The speedway even has plans to elect a mayor among the RV guests that stay in the stadium infield.
Someone said whenever we have we have a race weekend we become the fourth largest city in Kansas, said Lukaskiewicz.
The track is a 1 1/2-mile, tri-oval with 15-degree banks in the turns, 10.4-degree front stretch bank, and five-degree back stretch.
Its a great track, and they really did a great job of designing it for good racing, Earnhardt, who raced in the speedways inaugural Winston Cup event at Kansas City in 2001. I think that as they have a few more races there, the groove will continue to widen and you will see side-by-side racing all the way around the track. This is going to be great for the fans, and for the racers. I love being able to run side-by-side with someone and be able to race hard like that lap after lap.
The speedway was designed to accommodate other types of racing, as well as NASCAR. It is the first track built from the ground up by the International Speedway Corporation in 40 years.
So weve taken all the great things that you see at speedways and then some, and applied them here, said Lukaskiewicz.
One of the benefits is the bowl-shaped stadium that allows full-track viewing from every stadium seat. Bathroom and concession facilities are every 300 feet, with televisions at each, plus under the grandstand, so fans can keep up with the action. Fan Walk allows ticket holders to view the garages and pass items to the driver to sign.
I think [the Kansas Speedway] is a great example of a racetrack that competes head-to-head with the best baseball and football stadiums in the country, said Earnhardt.
RV owners can experience races from the roof of their vehicle in the infield adjacent to the driver/owner motor home lots.
You see people hanging out camping, and then you think, Oh, Dale Earnhardt, Jr.s staying in that trailer right there, said Lukaskiewicz. Other campgrounds are located outside of the track.
Gateway International Raceway
Gateway International Raceway is just minutes from downtown St. Louis in Madison, Ill., and accessible via Metrolink light rail on race days. Its also accessible by car from Interstate 64 and state Route 203.
The raceway began in 1967 with an 1/8th-mile drag strip and has continued to evolve over the decades. Their oval track debuted in 1997. Dover Downs Entertainment acquired Gateway International Raceway in 1998.
The NASCAR track at the Gateway International Raceway is a 1.25-mile oval track. Turns one and two are banked 11 degrees, three and four are banked nine degrees, with three degrees on the straightaways.
Because our four corners arent the same you cant set up the car, said Pete Wickham, Gateway International Raceway public relations director. They can only tweak through two, maybe two and a half turns, so that driver is going to have to show you how good he is.
Gateway is an odd-shaped track, said Earnhardt. Its like an egg. So, it makes it hard to get a set-up on the racecar that is comfortable all the way around the track. We did well there in the NASCAR Busch SeriesI was able to celebrate a couple of victories. It was great for me and the team because St. Louis is the home of our sponsorBudweiser.
Gateway International Raceway stadium has seating for 60,000 spectators along the front stretch and in turn two.
Wickham describes their track as versatile for its egg-shaped oval outer course, inner road course and drag strip.
Basically we can run darn near anything that goes, said Wickham.
Tips for fans
Its always a good thing to come early to a speedway, said Lukaskiewicz, because of size of the facility. Fans also can enjoy entertainment preceding the race and shop for souvenirs.
With a scanner, fans can listen to their favorite driver talking to their team. Scanners may be purchased or rented on site.
"Buy or rent a scanner and listen to the teams radio chatter during the race," suggested Earnhardt. "It can give you an inside view of what is really happening on the track."
Hats and sunscreen are essential, and earplugs are also a good idea. Pack a light rain poncho in case of surprise showers.
Track regulations vary from track to track, so fans should check with officials before bringing large bags, backpacks, or outside food and drink into the stadium. As with all major sporting venues, all bags are subject to search.
And as always, showing courtesy to the spectators around youbefore, after and during the racehelps everyone have a great time.
|Sally Snell is a contributor from Topeka, Kan.|