Print Page   |   Sign In   |   Register
News & Press: FOCUS

Michigan International Speedway Celebrates Golden Anniversary

Friday, June 1, 2018  
Share |

Nestled on 1,400 acres in the beautiful Irish Hills in southeastern Michigan, Michigan International Speedway (MIS) sits as one of Michigan’s landmark destinations. 2018 marks the 50th anniversary of MIS, which is not only one of the racing world’s most popular venues, but also the site of numerous events year-round. 

The economic impact of MIS is felt well beyond the southern Michigan region in which is sits. A recent study conducted by the University of Michigan found that MIS created a $414 million economic impact in the state. The study also found that MIS pays $2.4 million in local property taxes and more than $83 million in state sales and use taxes. The total economic footprint of MIS produces $226.6 million in earnings and 5,413 jobs. Approximately 400,000 people visit MIS annually, more than half of whom are from outside of Michigan. The track employs 40-50 full time team members and have as many as 2,500 to 3,000 people working during a race weekend.

A History of Vision in Leadership

Like any successful venture, the history of MIS is filled with tales of visionary leaders. The early years were filled with challenges, but successes began to take root quickly.

Groundbreaking took place on September 27, 1967. Over 2.5 million yards of dirt were moved to form the D-shaped oval designed by Charles Moneypenny, who previously designed the 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway.

The prime mover in the venture was Lawrence H. LoPatin, a Detroit-area land developer who built the speedway at an estimated cost of $4-6 million. LoPatin has been called a visionary and a man well ahead of his time. In an era well before motorsports became part of mainstream America, he dreamed of owning speedways in Michigan, Georgia, Texas, California and New Jersey - all hot spots for speedways today. LoPatin selected the land MIS sits on today for its proximity not only to Detroit, the Motor City Capital of the World, but to Chicago, Indianapolis, Cleveland, Canada and the entire Midwest.

In 1973 – when the oil crisis and rising gas prices threatened all of racing – Roger Penske envisioned turning MIS into a premier motorsports facility. After purchasing the deed to the speedway off the Lenawee County courthouse steps for an estimated $2 million, Penske went right to work to improve MIS to his standards. He invested millions of dollars on one capital improvement project after another with a goal of making Michigan International Speedway one of the best speedways in the world.

During Penske’s ownership, the grandstands were expanded from 25,000 to more than 125,000 seats, and numerous buildings were added to the property, including three garages, 28 pit terrace suites, an administration building, two ticket offices, a maintenance building, a warehouse, a sign shop, an entertainment shop, a Competition Tire building, and a Motorsports International building.

In July of 1999, Penske Motorsports, Inc. was purchased by the country’s leader of motorsports entertainment – International Speedway Corp (ISC). ISC was founded by another visionary – Bill France – who built the world-famous Daytona International Speedway and founded NASCAR, the country’s most popular racing series. ISC now owns 12 different motorsports venues, including former Penske speedways in addition to Daytona International Speedway, Talladega Superspeedway, Darlington Speedway, Homestead-Miami Speedway, Richmond International Raceway, Watkins Glen, Phoenix International Raceway, Martinsville Speedway, Kansas Speedway and Chicagoland Speedway. The vision and impact of LoPatin, Penske and France are evident in what MIS has become today.

“Over 50 years a lot has changed. Everybody involved along the way has had a tremendous impact,” said Rick Brenner, president, Michigan International Speedway. “Three folks had different visions at different times. It has become a fabulous success and a great contributor to Michigan and the economy.”

A Premier NASCAR Facility

Today, Michigan International Speedway is considered one of the country’s premier racing facilities, a favorite for millions of NASCAR fans and for drivers who travel the NASCAR circuit.

“We have the fastest track in NASCAR and the best drivers in the world here,” said Brenner. “The fans enjoy that as well.” 

Cale Yarborough won the first NASCAR race at the speedway on June 15, 1969, in a thrilling duel with LeeRoy Yarbrough. The two drivers battled door-to-door for most of the final 150 laps. On their final circuit, they touched twice-entering turn one, with Yarbrough brushing the outside wall. They then drafted down the back straight, and through turn three. But while coming out of the final turn, LeeRoy Yarbrough spun and crashed just 300 yards from the finish line, handing the victory to Cale Yarborough.

Since then, MIS has hosted a number of historic races and many legendary drivers. Richard Petty, Mark Donohue, A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, Parnelli Jones, Gordon Johncock, Emerson Fittipaldi, Al Unser, Bobby Allison, Buddy Baker, Neil Bonnett, David Pearson, Davey Allison, Rick Mears, Dale Earnhardt, Buddy Rice, Alex Zanardi and Jeff Gordon all have celebrated wins in Victory Circle at Michigan International Speedway. MIS has honored these drivers and all of its past champions in the Walk of Champions area in the AAA Motorsports Fan Plaza.

NASCAR fans will flock to MIS once again this year for two great weekends of racing in 2018, June 8-10 and August 10-12. The first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race weekend is June 8-10. The FireKeepers Casino 400 will be on June 10. The ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards will start the weekend with the ZOMONGO 200 on June 8 and the NASCAR XFINITY Series LTi Printing 250 will be on June 9.

During August 10-12 the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series will return to the NASCAR’s fastest track. Monster Energy Series practice and qualifying will be on August 10 and the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series LTi Printing 200 is scheduled for August 11. The Consumers Energy 400 will wrap up the NASCAR racing season at MIS on August 12.

Brenner attributes the popularity of the track, in part to the location, in close proximity to the population rich southeast Michigan market.

“You also can’t ignore the spirit of Michiganders in supporting their own and the great pride the area has in this facility,” said Brenner. “What MIS brings to the state and surrounding communities has a lot to do with the overall success.”

The MIS Race Week Experience is a Family Affair

For racing fans, NASCAR and the MIS experience is much more than the race itself. Hundreds of thousands of fans eagerly decide to spend some of their vacation time coming to the track days in advance of the race. MIS features nine campgrounds and 9,000 individual camping sites. Racing week is a family affair with virtually non-stop activities.

“We have world-class entertainment throughout the week,” said Brenner. “The race is the marquee event, but there is so much more. There are generations of folks for which this is their vacation in the summertime. Folks can enjoy the lush Irish Hills and the beautiful lakes combined with the opportunity for people to come out and enjoy a week’s worth of entertainment capped off with one of best races in the world.”

Fans can enjoy free concerts on Saturday night of race week, go to church on Sunday, bingo or a movie night, bus trips into the local communities and more. This year, MIS has introduced a new food court and bar area plus live entertainment in the fan plaza.

“We will facilitate an all-night spring break party on one night and in another campground, we’ll have a family movie night,” said Brenner. “There are a lot of different things going on and there is really something for everybody.”

MIS Cares: Making an Impact in the Community

MIS and its sister company Americrown combined to donate a total of $907,587 to local service groups and organizations through cash donations, in-kind donations, work programs, grants and sponsorships, as well as tickets and merchandise that clubs raffled to raise money in 2017. MIS Cares’ mission is to assist and inspire youth within our community

“Everybody understands how important our youth are to the future,” said Brenner. “It is important for corporate citizens like us to find ways to give back to the region.”

MIS Cares established a scholarship program a few years ago. The scholarships are part of an ongoing initiative to promote learning among students at all educational levels by MIS Cares and Michigan International Speedway. The scholarship was open to any graduating senior in Jackson or Lenawee County who is entering a STEAM-related (science, technology, engineering, art, mathematics) field at a college, university or trade school in Michigan. Thanks to support from the community, MIS Cares has been able to award $49,000 in scholarships to local high school students in the first four years of the program.

“In addition to the financial contributions we continue to look for ways to use this facility year around in ways that benefit the community,” said Brenner. “Local police departments use the track for training purposes. We host the state cross country championships every year. These are just a few of the things that are an important part of our company culture and to everyone here.”

Celebrating the 50th

Michigan International Speedway is partnering with Consumers Energy to recognize its 50th anniversary with a celebration of events and activities throughout the racing season. The track has created a special car and memorabilia display that features the history of racing at MIS for fans to enjoy both race weekends in the New Holland Fan Plaza. Throughout the season, the track will feature all the great drivers and moments on its social media channels and website.

Michigan International Speedway will host the inaugural MIS Charity Dinner presented by Consumers Energy on June 9. Fans will enjoy a night of entertainment in the track’s 50 Years of Racing Exhibit presented by Consumers Energy in the fan plaza.

The event, a first of its kind will feature a strolling dinner, dessert and drink stations, live and silent auctions, music, a photo booth and much more. It will take place during the FireKeepers Casino 400 weekend allowing fans to watch nonstop racing on track with the LTi Printing 250 and a unique racing experience that evening.

“We’re proud to celebrate 50 years of MIS, not only powering a terrific fan experience but supporting this special anniversary Charity weekend,” said Brian Rich, Consumers Energy’s senior vice president of customer experience. “As a company with roots that reach back 130 years, Consumers Energy appreciates the important role that MIS has in enriching Michigan, and we are privileged to be part of this inaugural event that showcases MIS’s special brand of fun while helping two great charitable causes."

Taking the Vision Forward

Sports fans have many options on how to spend their discretionary dollars, which will be a challenge for all sports and entertainment venues like MIS in the future. Fans have many more choices than ever plus the added benefit of watching premier events on big screen televisions with theater quality sound in the comfort of their family rooms.

Brenner feels that the ticket to success at MIS going forward will be to continue to look for ways to leverage the asset they have as a year around facility.

“That’s the whole facility and not just the race track,” said Brenner. “We have to continue to find ways to have a positive impact on the region and the state and continue to find ways to use what we have here for the betterment of Michigan.”

More information of Michigan International Speedway and its 2018 event schedule can be found at mispeedway.com.

Click here to download the June issue of FOCUS.


This Month's E-Chamber Connect Sponsors

Association Management Software Powered by YourMembership  ::  Legal