When will racing return to Kentucky Speedway? It's anyone's guess

NASCAR took the race track off 2021 schedule
SKY 9 screenshot of semi-truck trailers at Kentucky Speedway
Posted at 5:00 AM, Jun 24, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-26 13:34:39-04

SPARTA, Ky. — Bradley Moore admits he's a little obsessed with car racing.

"It runs in my family," Moore said. "My grandpa was a (National Hot Rod Association) drag racer."

Bradley Moore
Bradley Moore

Moore said he attended NASCAR races at Kentucky Speedwaywith his mother, who died in 2019. Races at the Sparta, Kentucky, track brought back special memories he shared with her.

Last September, NASCAR announced it had removed Kentucky Speedway from the 2021 racing schedule. It was a major blow to the Gallatin County race track and some local businesses and nonprofits that depended on a surge in revenue earned from crowds flocking to the community.

And it was personal for many fans who felt a strong emotional connection to big-time racing at the small-town track.

"I felt heartbreak," Moore said. "Like that was the Number 1 ticket in my book."

The new meal ticket for Kentucky Speedway appears to be long-term parking.

SKY 9 screenshot of pickup trucks at Kentucky Speedway
SKY 9 screenshot of pickup trucks at Kentucky Speedway

Sky 9 drone video shows on one side of State Route 35 there are thousands of pickup trucks waiting for foreign-made computer chips.

On the other side of the road, there are thousands of semi-truck trailers.

"Currently, they (Kentucky Speedway) have entered into some contracts with Amazon, every three months, to store overflow trailers full of merchandise," said Gallatin County Judge-Executive Jon Ryan Morris. "Those are returns. Amazon returns."

Jon Ryan Morris
Jon Ryan Morris

Kentucky Speedway declined to discuss the business arrangement with Amazon. Amazon did not respond to a request for comment.

Despite being taken off the NASCAR circuit, Morris said Kentucky Speedway made its most recent industrial bond payments to Gallatin County totaling about $400,000 a year.

The payments are in lieu of traditional taxes, Morris said.

"Part of the bonding is based on some of the racing that takes place there, but even though they're not going to have a race, they're going to continue to fulfill their financial obligation," Morris said.

Julie Kirkpatrick, president and CEO of meetNKY, the Northern Kentucky Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the track is doing what it needs to do to survive.

"The pandemic is still going on, but I do feel confident that a race will come back and more demand will come back to that facility," Kirkpatrick said.

Julie Kirkpatrick
Julie Kirkpatrick

Kirkpatrick and Morris are hopeful NASCAR will come back to Kentucky Speedway, but the track's future appears to be open to many different types of business.

"We will evolve into a multi-use rental complex and also seek additional entrepreneurial prospects," said Mark Simendinger, Kentucky Speedway's executive vice president and general manager in a statement released last September after the NASCAR announcement. "Kentucky Speedway is open for business, and we have the potential to host special events, commercial television production, music festivals, other racing series and stand-alone RV rallies and camping events."

If NASCAR doesn't return to the speedway, the "most likely alternative" for the nearly 1,000-acre property will be industrial, according to Jeff Bender, vice-chair at commercial real estate firm Cushman Wakefield's Cincinnati office.

"Cincinnati's the 14th largest industrial market in the country," Bender said. "The base that we have in our market is really strong for it."

Jeff Bender
Jeff Bender

Bender said Kentucky Speedway is so large and centrally located between Cincinnati and Louisville that it could be a manufacturing and distribution center.

"Where Greater Cincinnati sits — or Sparta, Kentucky in this case — we just happen to be on the right place on the map in the eastern U.S.," Bender said.

Bender said the site is large enough to "conceivably be a place for a distribution center or 10 or a manufacturing facility or 20."

If racing is off the table, Morris said, the speedway is a great site for an industrial park.

Meantime, the current operation at Kentucky Speedway has made it easier for local entrepreneur Matt Forman to develop his business, 1st Choice Liquidations in Burlington.

Matt Forman shows Amazon customer returns at his liquidation warehouse in Burlington, KY
Matt Forman shows Amazon customer returns at his liquidation warehouse in Burlington, KY

Forman said he bought a load of medium-sized boxes off one of the trailers at Kentucky Speedway.

"Sight unseen, it's delivered here," Forman said. "You open up the back of the truck, and it's as big of a surprise to you as it is to me."

Forman said the products, returned by Amazon customers, include golf clubs, Bluetooth speakers, a robot lawn mower, and hundreds of pounds of premium dog food. He said he's able to sell the merchandise at greatly-reduced prices and still make a nice profit.

"This time it was a nice surprise," Forman said.

Whatever happens to the race track, Jane Searcy, owner of Hog Wild Pit Crazy BBQ, located a mile and a half from Kentucky Speedway's property, hopes it contributes more to the local economy year than a week or two of increased business.

Jane Searcy
Jane Searcy

"It would be nice if we could have something that the whole community could benefit from," Searcy said.

But for many racing fans, it's hard to see more than an empty grandstand and the loss of the sport they love so much.

"That's all it was, was money," said NASCAR fan Bradley Moore.

Now, it will take a different vision, one that may not include big-time racing, to see the course of business for Kentucky Speedway.

Hear I-Team reporter Craig Cheatham talk about this story on Hear Cincinnati: