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Kentucky Speedway forgot about those two key words

Sometimes saying "I'm sorry" is all it takes to make people feel a little better.
    That might have been the case with Kentucky Speedway, if the apology had been immediate and sincere.
    But to the thousands of fans who spent hours snarled in traffic, congestion so bad that many never made it to their seats for Saturday night's inaugural Sprint Cup race, the two words they long for — "We're sorry" — would probably fall on deaf ears.
    Track general manager Mark Simendinger probably thought he had the apology covered in a Sunday night statement, his second since the massive traffic jam spoiled what was supposed to be a spectacular debut for Kentucky Speedway.
    "Kentucky Speedway regrets the traffic conditions," Simendinger wrote, and since regret means remorse, maybe that should have been enough. It wasn't, though, and frustrated fans took to social media to blast the track and parent company Speedway Motorsports Inc. for ducking the two words everyone wanted to hear.
    "When I realized they hadn't said it, I wondered, 'Why haven't they apologized?'" fan Jen Morrison said Monday. "I bet a lot of people are wondering that. It seems like such a simple thing to say, and it could really go a long way. But they didn't say it, probably because they don't want to say it's their fault."
    By Monday afternoon, the track had indeed quietly apologized by updating Simendinger's statement on its website. The word "regrets" had been replaced by "apologizes."

Finally, an official apology came along with a ticket exchange offer good for any SMI track this season, and the race at Kentucky next year.

"To those fans that were not able to attend the (race), we offer our sincerest apologies," Simendinger said. "We'd also like to apologize to all of our fans who endured challenging conditions during our event weekend."

It didn't soften the blow for Morrison, a 28-year-old who works on social media for CMT in Nashville.

She returned to her family home in Hamilton, Ohio, last weekend with plans to attend the race. As she headed toward Cincinnati early Saturday, she saw a line of cars backed up 15 miles going in the direction of the race track. She called her dad and told him he should get on the road, which he did 30 minutes later.

He made it to the track at 6:40 p.m., some six hours after he began the drive that typically takes one hour and 15 minutes. But Morrison waited for her brother to get off from work, and they didn't start their journey until 3:30 p.m. Even though they knew a back way to the track, they accepted that they'd miss the 7:45 green flag start.

They missed a lot more than that. After navigating traffic for more than five hours, they got to the gate an hour after the race had started.

"The cop just shrugged and said, 'Sorry, no parking,' and turned us away," Morrison said.

The paid lots they had passed were full, she said, and they believed their only option was to get back onto the interstate to go back to a paid lot they had earlier bypassed.

"But that would have meant crossing the road and walking 3-to-4 miles to the track. There was no point," she said.

Morrison, who has attended races at Bristol, Indianapolis and Talladega, is no stranger to bad race traffic. But she said she wouldn't be going back to Kentucky, regardless of what the track does to potentially make it right.

The olive branch from SMI came Monday from president and CEO Marcus Smith, who said fans with unused tickets can exchange them.

"We felt like this was a situation we wanted to roll out all the stops, and go above and beyond," said Smith, who believes the track did not have enough shuttles running from remote lots, hotels and malls to help lessen the number of cars heading to the track.

"The traffic was anticipated. We knew it was going to be bad and we have been saying for a couple of years that we need more roads. And we did make plans, the plans just clearly didn't work," Smith said.

"We don't want to point fingers and make excuses, but in hindsight, there are a lot of things we have to do differently."

There were other issues that needed to be acknowledged. Fans who did make it inside the gates complained about concession stands running out of food and water, and others said there were long lines for the bathrooms, which some deemed dirty and short on toilet paper. The first sign of trouble actually came Thursday, when spotters complained the elevator that took them to the roof was out of order.

Smith said the traffic issue created a "domino effect" and many track workers assigned to areas such as concessions were stuck in the congestion and unable to get to work on time.

Still, there's no denying that traffic was always going to be a problem. A July 1 press release from The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet that touted the traffic patterns set for Saturday night even noted near the bottom that "Kentucky Speedway is able to accommodate approximately 33,000 vehicles in its 10 parking lots."

Track owner Bruton Smith's addition of 40,000 seats had made it a 107,000-seat speedway, and all the seats sold a week before the race.

Clearly there was going to be a shortage, and everyone seemed to know it ahead of time. Even Smith, who spent millions on improving infrastructure since buying the speedway in 2008, acknowledged it Friday when he joked that track officials "expect to have everyone home by Tuesday."

His crack maybe drew a laugh or two when he made it, but it's not funny now, not for Morrison and her brother, who are out $85 each on tickets, or any other fans who were inconvenienced by the traffic woes.

Smith estimated during the race that 20,000 fans failed to make it into the speedway during the event, but that number was likely exaggerated as Smith will now fight with the state for the funds to improve the roads surrounding the speedway. Smith and his SMI group are the best in the business at promoting races, and their facilities are top notch.

Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage had similar traffic woes during his track's inaugural Cup race. SMI and the speedway addressed the issues, and the track is now among the best in NASCAR.

"I talked to Bruton on Saturday and he was just sick as he could be about the traffic, but at that point, what can you do?" Gossage said Monday. "Now you just go forward. Our company always fixes things. We never, ever, ever ignore them."

Fixing things going forward will improve Kentucky, but it may never convince some of the fans from Saturday night to return. It doesn't change the fact that Kentucky, after a 10-year wait to get onto the Sprint Cup schedule, just wasn't ready for prime time.

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