|Kentucky Power Rankings|
|The professionalism and credibility of Speedway Motorsports Inc. fell off the real-world power poll this week, the one that induces fans to purchase tickets, gasoline, hotel rooms and food and patronize the races the company promotes. |
But couth and class also took a slide in the aftermath of the Kentucky Speedway debacle on Saturday night. In the process, the racing industry might have revealed just how bad things remain in treacherous economy with a tepid fan base.
Though SMI announced a ticket exchange for fans that never made it inside the venue because of horrific traffic, nothing short of chairman Bruton Smith standing outside Churchill Downs handing out free vouchers to the potential second Sprint Cup race at the track would suffice in displaying true contrition. If he uses the situation -- which he certainly had been aware of as he's owned the track south of Cincinnati since 2008 -- as a wedge to wrangle federal or state funds to build a new highway to the track, he should and likely will be pilloried for it.
But as woeful as was SMI's preparedness and its response, the subsequent reaction by the industry has been even more disappointing. Racing is a confederation of so-called "stakeholders," an overused term meaning each independent contractor -- whether a driver, owner, track promoter or manufacturer -- has a vested interest in the collective health of the sport as a whole, while reserving the right to act selfishly for their individual betterment when it suits them. Some of those stakeholders attempted to drive a stake through SMI's collective heart in the aftermath of Saturday's mess, and although couched in the guise of empathy for the thousands of fans put out, the reactions of track promoters at Michigan, Indianapolis and Talladega seemed more cynical than compassionate, exploitative than empathetic.
Stakeholders cajole every dollar they can at the expense of their counterparts because that stokes competition, and in theory, provides a better experience for the ticket-buying public. But Kentucky's failing initiated a mini feeding frenzy among regional competition that was unseemly even in a hostile business climate. Chief among the opportunists was Michigan International Speedway president Roger Curtis, who apologized to fans for Kentucky Speedway's errors. His track is a geographic rival of Kentucky and its parent company, International Speedway Corp., is SMI's main competitor. Grant Lynch, president at Talladega -- another ISC venue -- issued a statement asserting his track's readiness for traffic and counterpart Jeff Belskus at independent Indianapolis Motor Speedway offered a ticket deal to disappointed Kentucky patrons for the Brickyard 400.
Said Curtis, in an e-mail: "Just to be clear: This isn't about kicking a racetrack when it's down. We all make mistakes, and MIS has certainly had past issues with traffic. And it isn't about swaying a Kentucky Speedway ticketholder to come to Michigan -- although we'll be happy to treat them the way they should be treated.
"[Rather], it's about apologizing and doing what's right when you are clearly in the wrong. It is about having your priorities right in the first place -- on the fan experience. That's why I'm upset." Undoubtedly.
Now on to the power rankings: