KANSAS CITY, KAN. With Kansas Speedway's first race less than two weeks away, the country's newest race track played host last week to a who's who of motorsports.
Attending the Kansas Speedway Kickoff Luncheon inside one of the race track's garages were the president of NASCAR, the president and CEO of the Indy Racing League, the president of ARCA, the president of the Dayton Indy Lights Championship and the president of Kansas Speedway.
Not to be left out, the 1973 Winston Cup champion, the best female stock-car driver in the country, one of the most successful Indy-car drivers of all time, the head of one of the most respected racing teams in the country and last, but not least, The King.
NASCAR President Mike Helton joined IRL President Tony George, ARCA President Ron Drager, Dayton Indy Lights Championship CEO Roger Bailey and Kansas Speedway President Grant Lynch for an afternoon luncheon to introduce Kansas Speedway to area sports fans. Also representing the series were Shawna Robinson from the ARCA RE/MAX Series, Al Unser Jr. from the IRL, Kyle Petty from the NASCAR Winston Cup Series, and seven-time Winston Cup Series champ Richard Petty.
The power elite of motorsports praised Kansas Speedway's design, architecture, fan amenities and color. The race track holds its first race this weekend, when ARCA, represented at the luncheon by its president, Ron Drager, and Winston West stock-car series come to town.
Unser Jr., a two-time Indianapolis 500 winner and the winner of 31 Indy-car races, said, "As I was driving up (to the track) you could sense the excitement in the air."
There certainly seemed to be excitement in the air at the luncheon. The event was a sellout, attracting 1,000 people. Those attending listened to stories from Richard Petty, his son Kyle Petty, 1973 Winston Cup champion and current NBC television analyst Benny Parsons and Roger Bailey, head of the Dayton Indy Lights Championship, which will also race at the track in July.
Benny Parsons, the 1973 NASCAR Winston Cup Series champion, emceed the event.
The luncheon gave the 1,000 guests the opportunity to meet their motorsports heroes, as well as listen to stories about racing's old days. Richard Petty and Parson wowed the crowd with stories about the first Daytona 500 in 1959 and Parson's first race in Darlington.
Robinson, who is scheduled to drive in seven Winston Cup races this year including the one at Kansas Speedway stressed her belief that the new speedway will become the focal point of racing in the heartland.
"Fans here are extremely hungry" for racing, Robinson said. "Kansas, Missouri, Iowa; this is what they want."
Petty said he'd like to make Kansas Speedway his "home track."
"It amazes me how much the race fans here have really embraced the sport and are excited about the opening of Kansas Speedway," NASCAR Winston Cup Series driver Kyle Petty said.
"That is one of the reasons I can't wait to get on the track here."