Were you among the legions of NASCAR fans stuck in traffic for hours while the Inaugural Quaker State 400 played out on Kentucky Motor Speedway? After inching toward the track in reported 15-mile, five-hour traffic jams of epic proportions on I-71, fans who paid $170 for tickets, who-knows-how much-for-gas, finally reached the hallowed grounds of Kentucky Motor Speedway only to be turned away because: 1) there were no more parking spaces; 2) the race was passed the midway point, and lots had to be “ready” for exiting fans; 3) no one knew how to cope with such an overwhelming success.
Overwhelming success? Sure, all 110,000 seats were sold—gold by any sports’ standards. But somehow, someone forgot to consider how those thousands of vehicles were going to navigate the miles of road from the expressway to the track.
Signs of an impending disaster were evident hours before the race when various drivers began tweeting that they were worried they’d miss the Drivers’ Meeting because they were stuck in traffic. Whatever the reason, the end result was inexcusable and certainly not the image that NASCAR wants to portray. Fans turned away from a race; no alternative parking; no shuttles? Those 40 miles from the Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky International Airport, in Florence, KY must have felt like 400 miles to those caught in the traffic nightmare.
It’s fantastic that Kentucky finally got their much-wanted Cup Race. It was great watching the fans enjoy the weekend’s festivities, from the Camping World Truck Series Race, the Nationwide Series Race, and the Sprint Cup Series Race. The lucky ones arrived early Thursday in those RV’s parked all weekend in the infield. The unlucky ones were forced to listen on car radios—if they had access to the race—while Kyle Busch took the checkered flag while they were stuck in traffic… knowing they were about to be turned around and repeat the sad, slow journey home. How taunting to see the lights from the track in the distance… the promised land never reached.
Meanwhile, across the pond, the premier cycling event of the Century was suffering its own brush with human miscalculation. The first week of the Tour de France generally sees a culling of the field, as some of the close to 200 cyclists starting the three-week odyssey abandon the race (don’t you just love the way the French translates here)—usually lesser-known riders, occasionally a contender caught in an unfortunate crash. First-week crashes are expected… the Peleton teems with nervous excitement. Rookies make mistakes. Accidents happen.
But some accidents should never happen. First, an official tour motorcycle photographer literally pulls the bike out from under Danish rider Nicki Sorensen and sends him skidding across the roadside. Rightfully, the photographer was forced to abandon the tour and thankfully, Sorensen continues to ride.
Sunday, the unthinkable happens. Juan Antonio Flecha and Johnny Hoogerland approach the homestretch of a 120-mile breakaway as part of a five-man breakaway. Suddenly, an official France Television car swerves on the narrow road to avoid a tree and plows into Flecha, causing him to crash into Hoogerland, sending him airborne into a barbed-wire fence. Miraculously, both men completed the stage, bloodied, bruised, and recipients of the day’s Most Courageous Rider Award.
Hopefully, the France Television driver abandons the race and that neither of these two courageous men are forced to leave the race due to injuries. Meanwhile, the list of wounded top contenders forced to abandon grows as savage crashes continue to decimate the Peleton. Chris Horner, Jani Brajkovic, Bradley Wiggins, Dave Zabriskie, Alexandre Vinokourov, Jurgen Van Den Broeck, Frederik Willem, Tom Boonen… among others.
Has an opening week of the Tour ever witnessed such carnage? Tour organizers must be re-examining policies in light of this week’s events. The delicate balance between bringing the story to worldwide television audiences and allowing the cyclists to ride safely appears to have tilted in the wrong direction. Will Christian Prudhomme right the ship before any further mishaps?
Two premier organizations pride themselves in professionalism, logistics, and providing a first class event and superior experience for the fans. No doubt the organizations are working overtime to repair the damage—to the events’ images, if not to the cyclists and fans affected.
- Drivers, NASCAR Talk Kentucky Speedway Traffic (The Off-Track Variety) (sbnation.com)
- Kentucky Speedway Releases Additional Statement About NASCAR Traffic (sbnation.com)
- FYI WIRZ: NASCAR’s Kyle Busch and David Reutimann Hot at Gridlocked Kentucky (bleacherreport.com)
- Tour de France: Fury as TV car knocks cyclist into barbed wire (windsorstar.com)
- Officials vow to fix traffic at Kentucky Speedway (sports.espn.go.com)