The National Corvette Museum’s (NCM) recent sinkhole event captured a lot of media attention. However, during this drama the NCM Motorsports Park staff and contractors have been working around the clock to complete the new facility. The idea of building a motorsports park came in 2008 when a large number of nearby acres were offered for sale. Museum director Wendell Strode and the NCM board decided to communicate the motorsports idea to the general membership to get their reaction. Retired Vehicle Line GM Executive Bob Wallace was named spokesperson for the facility. Bob, a longtime amateur racer, did an excellent job getting the membership excited about the project.
In late 2011, the One Acre Club was created to encourage members to purchase one acre for $15,000. The number of takers exceeded expectations and soon the funds were available to buy the property. Racetrack designer Steve Crawford was selected to create the track layout. Steve previously designed Thunderhill Raceway Park in California and The Ridge Motorsports Park in Washington state. Corvette Racing and Pratt & Miller worked closely with Steve to create the final design. Corvette Racing wanted the track to include some unique elements from Circuit de la Sarthe (home of the 24 Hours of Le Mans) in France. This included duplicating one of the three PlayStation chicanes, the Mulsanne corner, and the Porsche (renamed Corvette) curves. The final track design was approved in 2013.
A groundbreaking ceremony was held at the construction site on June 28, 2013. DDS Engineering Company of Bowling Green was selected to do the engineering and drainage work. Scotty’s Contracting and Stone also of Bowling Green did the foundation and paving work. Mitch Wright was hired in late 2013 as the Motorsports Park General Manager. Mitch is a former GT racer, SCCA Pro Racing Technical Director, and SCCA Pro Racing Vice President. After leaving the SCCA, Mitch opened the Miller Motorsports Park in Toole, Utah, and NOLA Motorsports Park near New Orleans. Mitch’s prior track experience enabled him to direct the completion of the NCM Motorsports Park on time and on budget. The paving work was completed on June 28, 2014. We asked Mitch to explain the course layouts. “The track has four designs, the largest is the Grand Full Course at 3.15 miles. Next is the Grand Max 2.87-mile design and provides the fastest speeds, the East/West 2.0-mile is next and finally the East 1.1-mile design is the smallest. This variety provides a wide number of track choices when holding an event.”
The track opened during the NCM’s 20th Anniversary Celebration on Labor Day (August 28-31, 2014). To date it has the following sponsors: Michelin, Holley Performance, Corvette Central, ExxonMobil 1, and the Ron Fellows Performance Driving School. Holley is sponsoring the building of a 12,600-square-foot Control Tower and Event Center. During the Labor Day weekend these supporters were on display. During the weekend the 2.0-mile East/West design was used for owner demonstration rides in their cars with a pro driver. Individuals were allowed to drive their own cars around the 2-mile course behind a pace car. Chevrolet used the shorter 1.1-mile course to give visitors a ride in a C7 with a professional driver. The factory C7.R took demonstration laps around the circuit as well. Tour buses transported visitors from the NCM to the Motorsports Park all weekend and this helped keep the parking areas open for cars that were preparing to take laps. The facility’s official grand opening was on September 16, 2014. Kentucky’s governor, Steve Beshear, helped cut the ribbon to open the facility. The One Acre Club members were invited to take laps around the Motorsports Park.
We asked NCM Hall of Fame inductee and multi-time SCCA driving champion John Heinricy for his reaction to the track. He said: “I first drove the East/West 2.0-mile course on the 20th anniversary to give owners rides in their C4 to C7 Corvettes. Two corners were challenging and fun for me. The first is a quick right-left that runs along the interstate that you can take in Third gear. I also like the sweeping corners that appear when you accelerate out of the tight carousel. You make a sharp left-right-left and the last turn has a significant hill where the car gets light as you crest it. You have to wait for the car to settle before braking hard to slow for the approaching tight right-hand turn. Later, I had a chance to drive the Grand Full 3.15-mile course and located the track’s most challenging turns. Instead of turning a hard right in my previous explanation you can continue straight and this takes you to the full track. It’s pretty fast, and you first come over a blind hill in Fourth gear around 100 mph and the corner is off camber so it is important to take the correct line to get the best time. Overall, it is a real driver’s course that is very busy with little time to relax.” I asked John, of all the Corvettes he drove Labor Day weekend which was his favorite? He said: “the C5 Z06, it remains my favorite all-time Corvette to drive at a track.” John has won multiple SCCA championships driving one of these cars, so I guess his answer isn’t all that surprising.
So how popular will this new facility be? We learned that the schedule already has over 200 days booked for events. They are planning on staying open year round depending on the weather. Mitch Wright told us that they are going to add more curbing and move some guardrails back about 60 feet in some areas to improve safety. They are also going to make the pit entrance and exit much wider and easier to use. During Labor Day, over 220 cars used the course and there was only one incident. A BMW spun and tapped the barrier. Amateurs seem to like the track and they adapt to it quickly. The next time you go to the NCM with your Corvette you might want to take a lap on the new NCM Motorsports Park. For more information go to motorsportspark.org.