Night racing isn’t new at Kansas Speedway, but this weekend marks the first time it will take place there for NASCAR’s premier drivers.
Racing at night changes the dynamics in and around the speedway in Kansas City, Kan., and the races for the next two nights at Kansas Speedway have been highly anticipated by speedway officials since the approval for an installation of lights three years ago.
Speedway president Pat Warren has watched marquis drivers like Dale Earnhardt Jr., and his fellow competitors in Sprint Cup races and elsewhere.
“The best way I could describe it is: NASCAR meets Monday Night Football,” says Warren.
In September, Monday Night Football will return to Arrowhead Stadium, and Chiefs president Mark Donovan knows how much that prime time event means for the area.
“From a value standpoint, for the convention and visitors association, for the city, for tourism and just for brand of Kansas City, it’s a great showcase,” says Donovan.
But not good business, one bar owner contends, when Sprint Cup races are taken away from Sunday afternoons, especially in the spring when the NFL is in the midst of its off-season.
Jennifer Brashear, who owns The Players Club in Independence, Mo., says the Sprint Cup’s switch to Saturday night has an adverse effect because of a group of NASCAR fans who gather there each Sunday.
“It kills me. It absolutely kills me,” says Brashear. “My NASCAR club is just used to doing the Sunday thing. So when there’s a Saturday night race they just won’t come up for it.”
Sprint Cup drivers, however, welcome the switch. Two-time Sprint Cup winner Martin Truex Jr., who grew up in New Jersey, says night racing stirs up good memories.
“I don’t know if it takes you back to when you were racing short tracks Saturday nights or what it is. But something about racing at night: The excitement level is up!” says Truex Jr. “You know I think the drivers enjoy it more and obviously, I think, the fans like it more. You can see sparks and all that good stuff.”
The bottom line is that Pat Warren hopes more fans attend the 400-mile race Saturday night.
“Yeah, that was the goal,” said Warren. “To provide a really different experience for the fans. The feed we’ve gotten has been overwhelmingly positive. Our sales are up considerably.”
More fans figure to spend more time in the parking lot since the clock favors them leading up to the start of the race at 6:30 p.m. That also means potentially more problems.
It’s something the Chiefs are conscious of for Monday Night Football games. That’s why Mark Donovan says the Chiefs take extra precautions.
“We have historically have staffed up with the night games specifically. If you’re out in the parking lot longer, there is a possibility to enjoy yourselves a little bit more than normal and we want everyone’s experience to be a positive one.”
For the Sprint Cup race at Kansas Speedway, the parking lots surrounding the speedway will open at noon Saturday.
“It’s not really stepped up. Just a little more focused on parking lots and some things like that,” Warren said of increased security measures. “We don’t really talk about how we staff for other security reasons, but we have a great relationship with KCK police, with the Wyandotte county’s sheriff, with the Highway Patrol. Their main focus is to make sure everybody’s safe and secure.”
Just like Monday Night Football, the city will be showcased before a national television prime time audience during the course of the race. What the viewers won’t see is the traffic jam afterward. Day or night, that part won’t change.