By: Jason Schultz
Michigan President Interview: Behind the Scenes Look at the Michigan International Speedway with the Track President
Want a great fan experience? Head out to the Michigan International Speedway this weekend for the Pure Michigan 400. The races at Michigan are always a blast and below the President of the Michigan International Speedway told me some cool details of different things happening at the track. For the upcoming Pure Michigan 400, stakes are high for some drivers who are aiming to get in the Chase. Some drivers find themselves in a “win or go home” strategy to make the Chase. We’ve seen upsets at the Michigan International Speedway before and this year we could see some of the biggest upsets ever.
After the repaving of the track last fall, it is now the fastest in NASCAR and fast tracks bring great racing. Dale Earnhardt Jr broke his winless streak in the June race this year and he could get back to victory lane this coming weekend. With all the exciting events happening at the Michigan International Speedway, we will see a great racing weekend.
Recently, I was able to talk to the President of the Michigan International Speedway, Roger Curtis, and he gave me some exclusive information on different things happening at the speedway. Below you can see Roger’s responses to my questions and find out what’s happening at the Michigan International Speedway.
What are some changes the Speedway has made for the upcoming August race?
“SPEED! With the repave completed last fall, we have become NASCAR’s fastest track with speeds close to 200 mph. With the speeds, there has been some great racing. The Quicken Loans 400 was fantastic and drivers have told me that the Pure Michigan 400 will be even better after the last Goodyear tire test a couple of weeks ago. The racing in June was outstanding so I can’t wait to see this race! They will also see the new Budweiser Party Patio in Turn 4. It is great place to visit during the race. It will take your breath away seeing cars fly by you at close to 200 MPH at ground level. It is also a great place to visit ‘after hours’ for a great party.”
What has been your favorite change the track has made?
“Fixing our traffic issues from years ago. To me, this was one of those defining moments for us and our fans. I would also add just making our place a great fan experience. We view ourselves a lot more like Disney than a sports facility. Our vision is to create lasting memories for every person every time. We are not perfect, but our fans now know that we sincerely care about them and give back in so many ways – from lower prices to investing $65 million into improving the facility, to our Fan Appreciation program that gives fans once-in-a-lifetime experiences like no other track.”
With Dale Earnhardt Jr getting back to victory lane in June at Michigan, did you see a jump in ticket sales for the August race?
“We did, not only from Jr winning, but just from the great racing and the awesome speeds that fans saw. I told Dale Jr in Victory Lane that he didn’t have to wait for Leap Year to win at MIS again! I think he will be the favorite coming into the Pure Michigan 400 so Jr. Nation should make their way to the Irish Hills!”
What are some of your favorite behind the scenes aspects at the Michigan International Speedway that fans can’t see on TV?
“All of the campers and the parties in our beautiful campgrounds! Most of our team camps here on race weekend, as do I. I spend all of my evenings visiting the campgrounds and hanging out with the fans. It is like a ‘focus group’ for me, but also allows fans to hear the track’s perspective. Plus, I just love doing it. I have made some very good friends over the years and I make new ones each weekend. It is amazing what a community it becomes and the friends that are made on a race weekend. You can come here to camp knowing no one and leave with lifelong friends. Heck, I even married a couple in Gatorade Victory Lane in June!”
After the tragic lightning strike at Pocono, what would MIS do if a storm was approaching and the race was over?
“That was very tragic and out thoughts and prayers continue to go out to all those affected in Pocono. The safety of our guests is absolutely our No. 1 priority and focus. We have several things in place for any type of emergency, including having the National Weather Service on site with their equipment. If the NWS informed us of incoming dangerous weather, we would immediately communicate with our fans.”
How would the Speedway alert the fans of the incoming weather?
“We have several ways to do so from PA, scoreboard, Sprint Visions, Twitter, Facebook, our texting service, MRN, our mobile app, our ushers, and emergency vehicles going through the campgrounds. In the end, no matter what you do, you never can be 100 percent certain when dealing with nature, but you are diligent and do all that you can and put everything that you can in place to minimize all risks.”
Are there any big changes the speedway is planning before the 2013 races?
“We are upgrading our center grandstands restrooms and building a new restroom in the infield. We are also improving our on-site technology so fans can better access social media no matter their cell phone carrier and we will begin installing Wi-Fi hot spots around the facility. We will also be making improvements to our New Holland Fan Plaza and Kids Zone.”
What does the track president do on race weekend?
“I do have some ‘official’ duties – meeting our great sponsors, government officials, etc. - but I am a race fan. Before I became President, I came to MIS many times with my wife and our family and friends as fans, so I spend as much time as I possibly can interacting with fans. Whether I am riding the trams, walking in the New Holland Fan Plaza, meeting guests with pit passes, hanging out in the campgrounds, or even sitting in the stands, I love visiting our fans. I even pick a fan to give out a special Fan Trophy to the winner of our Cup races.”
What do you expect of the upcoming race?
“I love this wild card deal that NASCAR put in place last year. It is really added a lot of excitement and tension to the these last few races and the Pure Michigan 400 is going to be very critical for a lot of very good drivers who need to win to get in the Chase, so I expect a lot of action, very fast, and very fun as always!”
What do you most look forward to this race weekend?
“Visiting with the fans and thanking them for choosing to come to our beautiful track. It is amazing how many fans we have had the past few years, even with the tough economy. It shows that we have the best fans here in Michigan, the upper Midwest and Canada and I want to personally let them know that!”