KANSAS CITY, Mo. —As Lesa France Kennedy, chief executive officer of International Speedway Corporation and perhaps the most powerful woman in sports, rode into Kansas Speedway on Tuesday morning, she witnessed sights that 10 years ago were unimaginable.
She saw the backhoes moving earth behind turn two, clearing way for the Hollywood Casino that will open in 2012. She saw cranes lifting sections into the new Wizards soccer-specific stadium that will open next year.
And she saw the new light poles atop Kansas Speedway that will illuminate the track for possible night racing in the future.
"I thought, 'Here we go again... this is fantastic,'" Kennedy said after announcing that Kansas Speedway, for the first time, would have two NASCAR Sprint Cup races in 2011 — on the weekends of June 4-5 and Oct. 8-9.
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"I've had so much fun watching whole area grow. This has far exceeded our expectations and it has so much to do with the support we have gotten from this region," she said. "It's a model of how things should be done. The second Sprint Cup date at Kansas Speedway is just the icing on the cake."
The granting of a second Cup race to Kansas Speedway, which opened in 2001, was part of a NASCAR schedule realignment that is targeting the Heart of America.
Two underperforming tracks that had two dates — venerable Atlanta Motor Speedway and Auto Club Speedway, in the nation's second-biggest media market of Los Angeles — surrendered one date each for Kentucky Speedway outside Cincinnati and Kansas Speedway, respectively.
And Chicagoland Speedway received a favorable date change by moving from a hot, mid-July date to next Sept. 17, the first race in the Chase for the Sprint Cup playoffs. Kansas Speedway's Oct. 9 date will be the fourth race of the 10-race Chase.
With the four-year old Iowa Speedway looking to add a second Nationwide Series race to its 2011 schedule, could the Midwest be supplanting Southeast as the new pulse of NASCAR?
"I don't know about a trend," Kennedy said, "but we'll always look carefully at the schedule and schedule changes."
Kansas Speedway has had overflow crowds of more than 100,000 spectators for all nine of its previous Sprint Cup dates and officials are confident this part of the country can support two Cup dates, even in this difficult economy. The additional Cup race will have an economic impact of another $100 million in the Kansas City community.
Fans will be able to buy a full season ticket for both race weekends or buy the weekends separately.
"We feel very good about our ability to sell two Sprint Cup weekends and have great crowds for both races," said Kansas Speedway president Pat Warren. "The reason we're here today is because of our fans, and the support our fans have shown us for our first 10 seasons of racing is a sign of the strength of racing in the Midwest."
The second date was made possible when Kennedy — who helped design nearly every detail of Kansas Speedway — petitioned the NASCAR Board of Directors for the event if the state of Kansas approved the $385 million Hollywood Casino.
"With the momentum we've seen just from opening up the Kansas Speedway and all the surrounding development that has come on board... and then you add the Hollywood Casino," Kennedy said, "it's going to be one of the top destinations in the country."
Even though the lights at Kansas Speedway will be functioning in 2011, both Cup weekends will feature daytime races; likely a NASCAR Camping World Trucks Series race on June 4 and the Cup race on June 5; and a Nationwide Series race on Oct. 8 and Cup race on Oct. 9.
"As we went into the application process and petitioned NASCAR for a second date, we didn't know when that was going to be," Warren said. "We had to be in position for whatever date was available, and it could have been a night race."
Television dictates race times, and because Fox will carry the Coca-Cola 600 the week before the June race at Kansas, it does not want to have consecutive Sunday night races. And ESPN, which carries the second half of the NASCAR season, airs college football on Sunday nights in October.
However, the lights will be available in the event of rain delays, and they could help Kansas Speedway from losing the Indy Racing League on the schedule.
The IndyCar Series has run on the final weekend of April at Kansas Speedway since 2007. The Indy Cars originally ran during Fourth of July weekends from 2001-06, but the heat became unbearable for the fans and race teams.
When Kansas Speedway was unsuccessful in getting ISC to install lights during that time, the track shifted the IRL and NASCAR Craftsman Trucks series races to the last weekend of April. This year the races were April 30 and May 1. But with a new Sprint Cup date in early June, that's probably not feasible.
"I'm not saying we couldn't do it, but it would be very challenging," Warren said of races separated by a matter of weeks. "You would try to space the IndyCar race in the middle. Lights could make it possible in July or August. I would not be a proponent of running a day race in weather like we've got right now. I would consider a night scenario.
"As the Sprint Cup schedule has formed, it has caused the IRL to take a look at their schedule."
"Our fans are very excited about having a second Sprint Cup date," Warren said. "We have a lot of fans who like Indy Car racing. If we can work it out and it makes sense for us and the IRL, we'll absolutely run them again."