Rolling Stones crowd worries track superintendent

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Butch Lehr's fingers will be crossed tighter than anyone else's Friday night when the Rolling Stones make their historic foray into Churchill Downs. The prospect of unknowing fans trampling his precious turf course is the ultimate nightmare scenario for Lehr, a 39-year Churchill employee who has been the track superintendent since 1981.

"I'm worried, to be honest about it," said Lehr.

Lehr said he has received "every assurance" from concert promoters and other officials who arranged for the Stones to appear before some 50,000 fans "that everything will go the way it's supposed to."

The massive concert stage will be situated in the infield, just inside the turf course between the eighth pole and sixteenth pole. On both the dirt and turf courses, thousands of fans will be seated atop a protective, inter-locking, hard-plastic flooring that purports to minimize the possibilities of damage being incurred. Tens of thousands more fans will be in the grandstand and clubhouse seats.

"I did some experimenting with the plastic flooring in June, put quite a bit of weight on it, and it worked just fine," said Lehr. "Of course, there wasn't a concert going on, either. The main thing you worry about is traffic, people getting off the protective covering and actually getting onto the turf itself. I'm told that is not going to happen. That's the agreement."

In any given year, Lehr - a self-professed chronic worrier - would be concerned about strangers on his turf course. But it just so happens that on Nov. 4 Churchill will host the Breeders' Cup championships, so there is an aggravated element of worry about what will transpire Friday night.

"The grass is in excellent shape," he said. "It's as good as it's ever been. We used a vibratory tamp on it to get it as firm as we could, and the grass is cut shorter than normal. The seats will be on it for a day and a half. As soon as the concert's over, we'll be up all night tearing it down.

"We'll have a little more than four weeks to get the course ready for racing. I've got ten acres of sod in reserve, just in case something unexpected happens, but that's only if worse comes to worse. I just keep telling myself that if everything goes as planned, there's not going to be any problems."

Churchill is the lone racetrack among the numerous sports venues that are playing host to the Stones' "A Bigger Bang" tour. This is the first time in its 132-year history that Churchill has hosted a non-racing event of such scope.