February 9, 2012
By Nicholas Schwartz
We’re arguably out of the economic downturn as a country, but the results of the financial drought are still easily visible across the American landscape. People stopped buying, buildings stopped going up… unless you’re in Kansas.
International Speedway Corporation has poured money into new kid on the block, Kansas Speedway, since its opening in 2001, and just 11 years later the constant stream of expansions and renovations have made Kansas the premier Midwestern stop on the NASCAR circuit -- and perhaps one of the best venues in the country.
Just days ago, ISC opened the Hollywood Casino, a 95,000 square foot gaming paradise situated just above Turn 2. The facility, which cost over $400 million, is expected to draw an estimated 4 million visitors -- and quite a few drivers, I’d expect—annually.
In fact, Kansas Speedway has been a boon to the development of the once static surrounding area.
Since Kansas opened, numerous retail outlets have sprung up within walking distance of the track. The Speedway’s success likely reassured investors on the decision to break ground on the now-thriving Livestrong Sporting Park, Kansas City’s recently built, world-class soccer arena.
The casino should turn Kansas Speedway into an year-round attraction on its own, but ISC is taking steps to expand the racing options, as well. The track, which already hosts two Sprint Cup events per year, including a Chase race, will add an infield road course this year, and expects to host a Grand-Am race in 2013, according to NASCAR.com. Along with the addition of lights to add the possibility of night racing, are there many better options for fans than Kansas?
The jury is still out on the quality of racing, however. Criticized in its early years as a cookie-cutter intermediate track, Kansas wasn’t one of the more exciting races each year, and often times fans saw a whole lot of follow-the-leader racing. That improved slightly as the surface aged and wore down, resulting in less grip for drivers, but Kansas still couldn’t be considered as one of the most exciting tracks on the circuit.
That could change in the next decade, however, as far as 1.5-mile ovals go. Plans have been made to overhaul the Speedway’s surface in between the two Sprint Cup races in April in October. With the racing asphalt deteriorated to the point where cars run the risk of sustaining damage by running over the myriad potholes, track officials have decided to follow the lead set by Las Vegas and Homestead-Miami and move to a variable banking in the corners, starting at 18 degrees at the bottom groove and increasing to 20 degrees near the outside.
It will take a few years for the new surface to mature, but the decision to reconfigure the track was a must and should boost the racing in the years to come. With everything else Kansas offers, all that’s left is to generate the type of edge of your seat racing that unfortunately only comes a handful of times each season. If Kansas sees the same results as Las Vegas and Homestead-Miami, it would certainly become one of my most coveted NASCAR destinations.
If you would like to learn more about Nicholas, please check out his web site at Sports By Schwartz. Nicholas is a Managing editor and sportswriter for The Duke Chronicle at Duke University.
The thoughts and ideas expressed by this writer or any other writer on Insider Racing News, are not necessarily the views of the staff and/or management of IRN.