We live in LaGrange Ky, just off exit 22 on I-71. On Saturday afternoon, my wife and another couple left our home in two vehicles just after 2:00pm for the 33 mile drive to the track. Our friends were particularly excited to be attending the race because their tickets had been a Father's Day gift from their son who is currently serving in Afghanistan. At mile marker 39 (about 2:20 p.m.), a full 16 miles from our exit, traffic came to a complete stop. For the next 5 hours and 45 minutes we alternated between a (mostly) dead stop and a snails pace. To the credit of those in the cars around us, tempers were held in check and during those moments when we would all exit our cars and mill about on the interstate the mood was not so much anger but a mixture of disbelief, disappointment and resignation.
Despite the prevailing attitude of those around us, the hours spent mired in traffic were not without some tense moments. At various times we were passed by no less than six ambulances en route to the local hospital who were navigating a berm blocked every few hundred yards with overheating and/or out of gas vehicles. It should be noted that during this time on the interstate we were unable to find a radio station which broadcast traffic information and the only law enforcement presence we observed was a single patrol car parked in the median, the officer enjoying snacks and bottled water in the comfort of his vehicle.
At 8 p.m., 15 minutes after the green flag, we had finally reached our exit (#55) but found ourselves (still) mired in traffic and at a dead stop two miles from the speedway. At this point rumors began to circulate from car to car that the parking lots were completely full and that they were about to start turning people away. It was impossible to verify these rumors as (again) we could find no local station broadcasting traffic information and the only law enforcement presence consisted of two Highway Patrol vehicles parked at the off ramp (the officers inside the vehicles and apparently occupied with something other than traffic) and another Highway Patrolman, who we observed posing for snapshots with fans who had abandoned their vehicles and elected to walk the two-plus miles to the speedway. At this point my wife and I came to the conclusion that given the utter chaos surrounding us and with little hope of actually seeing any of the race that we would cut our losses and return home. With a wave to our friends who had elected to press on, we made a U-turn in the highway and gave up on the idea of attending the race.
On our return trip south (this now roughly 8:30 p.m.) we observed traffic still backed up and more or less at a complete stop for a full 13 miles. At one of the exits we elected to make a stop for a restroom break. I had an opportunity to chat with some of the many people who were milling about the parking lot. In addition to the disappointed race fans I also spoke with an elderly woman, traveling alone, who had spent six hours stuck in traffic on her way from Cincinnati to Louisville. She told me she believed her car had ran out of gas as she pulled into the pumps. Then there were the six people traveling (initially traveling in two vehicles) to a family members wedding in Ohio. One of the cars had overheated while idling in traffic and was abandoned on the berm. After sitting through another two hours of traffic they realized they could not make the wedding and had turned around in the median and were heading home.
This morning we called our friends who had elected to press on when we decided to turn around. It was a brief conversation as they were still asleep after arriving home at 4:30 a.m. this morning. The gist of our conversation was that after navigating another mile long gauntlet of confusion and incompetence, they finally found a place to abandon their vehicle and walked the last mile to the track, arriving at about 9:45 p.m. Apparently they were among the last people in the traffic jam to gain entry into the speedway as not far behind them the Highway Patrol had closed access and had began turning traffic around.
Thank you for listening. I hope your next trip to Kentucky is without incident and that you won't be writing post race stories about massive traffic jams.