SPARTA, Ky - Good weather, massive traffic jams, great racing and over 100,000 fans combined Saturday to make the Inaugural Quaker State 400 one for the record books at Kentucky Speedway.
Kyle Busch took the checkered flag, beating 42 drivers to the finish line in three hours of competition on the Gallatin County oval.
Fans were urged to come early to avoid tie-ups on Interstate 71, but even at mid-afternoon vehicles were backed up 18 miles in the Southbound lanes.
"Awesome," said Andrew Hook of Independence as his Jeep crawled forward. "It's part of the race, baby."
Allen Stewart of Hamilton stood by his car on the shoulder of the highway with the hood up and the radiator steaming.
"Got hot, but didn't overheat," he said. "Just trying to get some water in it."
Passing drivers gave him water and ice to help cool his nerves and the vehicle.
"All these nice NASCAR fans helped me out," Stewart added. "I'm just trying to make it to the track."
Outside the speedway, shuttles took large groups of fans from their parked cars to the gates. Others walked along the road to get to their seats. Many visited merchandise booths to pass the time.
Angela Schwartz of Lawrenceburg played cornhole with her friends under the blazing sun.
"I'm excited because it's my first NASCAR race," she said. "I'm meeting good people and a lot of friends."
As Darren and Alicia Jones strolled past the grandstand, they already had a plan to beat the heat.
"Take a lot of breaks, drink a lot of water and eat a lot of food," Darren said.
At two o'clock years of anticipation for a Sprint Cup race evaporated as the gates swung open.
"It's something we've been waiting for for 11 years now," said David Mefford of Carrollton. "This is a big impact on our community -- the influx of money, the tourists that are here for a week and money that's spend at local businesses."
Jerry Carroll built the Sparta track hoping to land one of NASCAR's top flight races, but it took Bruton Smith's purchase and expansion of the facility to turn that dream into reality.
"It's great," said Bill Deboe of Columbus. "Everybody here is good people. We're in a nice campground. Nice track. It's great."
Some people, like Boone County residents, Terry Placke and his father, Richard, headed straight for their seats.
"Didn't want to stand in line," Terry quipped.
The fact that Richard was there at all was a medical miracle, since he suffered a mild stroke several weeks ago.
However, he was determined to see the race.
"I gave up drinking long ago, but I had to give up my smoking and other things," he stated, "I said if I can't go I'm just going to start drinking and smoking again."
As race time approached, fans scurried to their seats. Among them was Bob Voegele, who sat trying to tune in the radio that would let him monitor communications between drivers and their crews on pit row.
"If you've never been to a NASCAR race, you do not know what you're missing," the Batesville resident said. "It's just unbelievable. The heart starts pumping. The hair stands on end. It's unreal."
Sitting next to him was Connie Powers of Colerain Township. To her, the Quaker State 400 was like a Christmas present.
"I'm a huge NASCAR fan and I've been waiting for months to see this happen," she said. "I'm so excited."
Charles Harris of Hamilton came to the track with a group of friends who are huge racing fans.
"It's something worth watching," he said as they headed to their seats in one of the newly constructed grandstands.
Pre-race festivities included Nick Lachey singing the National Anthem, a flyover of four jets and the introduction of each of the 43 drivers who qualified for the race.
Finally, Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear uttered the words that fans longed to hear.
"Drivers, start your engines," he said as a swell of cheers erupted from the crowd and engine after engine sprang to life.
The pace car moved out onto the track followed by each of the brightly colored racing machines. The roar of the motors was deafening.
Verona resident Eric Williams and his son, Garrett, were ecstatic.
"Finally got us a NASCAR race -- 11 years in the making," he said. "It's exciting for me and my boy because he's been waiting a long time, too."
With that the pace car pulled off the track and the race was on.
However, outside the speedway, traffic was still jammed as people waited to get inside.
Some said they'd been stuck for hours, but were still going to see what they could of the competition.
Others simply threw up their hands, turned around and headed for home without ever using tickets for which they'd paid hundreds of dollars.
Don Ruzanka of Louisville was stuck in traffic, he never made it in. "It's terrible. And I've been to a lot of Nascar races, this is the worst one I've ever been to. And I hope, when I send my tickets back in with my explanation, they'll send my money back. (so you have your tickets?) We're headed back to Louisville right now. (You're saying, 'that's it'?) That's it! It's ridiculous."
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