Commentary: The Fan Experience Should be Priority No. 1
July 11, 2011 | 4:19 P.M. EST
By Roger Curtis, president, Michigan International Speedway
What should have been a shining moment for the sport of NASCAR and all the racetracks, especially those in the Midwest, has sadly, potentially, put all of us back several steps – maybe even years.
A sellout NASCAR race at Kentucky Speedway should have signaled the continuation of great things for race fans in the Midwest and for our sport.
Unfortunately Saturday’ night’s events became an exercise in blame and unpreparedness – and race fans, corporate partners, media and drivers were caught in the middle.
As a track promoter I am saddened and embarrassed about what happened this weekend. To think all the hard work that we’ve done here at Michigan International Speedway and other tracks have done could be so quickly erased by Saturday’s events. That speedway, having been open for racing since 2000, should have known the challenges it would face when it tripled in size.
Just to be clear: This isn’t about kicking a race track when it’s down. We all make mistakes and MIS has certainly had past issues with traffic.
And it isn’t about trying to sway a Kentucky Speedway ticketholder to come to Michigan – though we will be happy to treat them the way they should be treated should they want to give us a chance.
It’s about apologizing and doing what’s right when you are clearly in the wrong. It is about having your priorities right in the first place – on the fan experience.
That’s why I’m upset.
It is bad enough the racetrack went into the weekend knowing traffic was going to be worse than they had previously had with other series. But to think Bruton Smith made light of it with the media, and then pointed the finger at the State of Kentucky when posed with traffic questions is unfathomable.
We work tirelessly with our legislators and local officials to ensure traffic moves efficiently and safely. We collaborate with local communities, our state, public safety officials and first-responders to ensure an event at Michigan International Speedway is a true public-private partnership; and not a business threatening to hold its region hostage to meet our demands.
It appears the mentality at some other racetracks today is to see how much money they can make off a fan. Their line of thinking is to ban coolers, have fire sales on last-minute tickets, build, build, build without thinking, thinking, thinking, and blame others for their mistakes.
Don’t get me wrong: We are not perfect. But we listen to our fans, we recognize our shortcomings and we try to overcome them so race fans don’t feel the burden. Most importantly, we learn from them so those mistakes don’t happen again.
Michigan International Speedway is sincere when we say we want to do things for our fans to grow our business. That’s why we lowered ticket prices for all our loyal fans, why we launched a Fan Appreciation program, why we have a Fan Advisory Board, why we allow larger coolers in the grandstands, why parking is always free and plenty, why we have invested more than $60 million in our facility the past four years, why we continue to work with the State of Michigan, the Michigan Department of Transportation, the Michigan State Police to manage race-day traffic and why we have real race fans give a Fans’ Trophy to the winning driver in Victory Lane.
We try really hard to educate our fans on traffic and our facility, have a system of feedback and information sharing with all our guests, and we listen to our guests about changes we need to make to grow our business. Fans are our bottom line.
On behalf of the MIS staff, I apologize to all the race fans whose expectations were not met this weekend, but also to those who read all the stories and were taken back by the treatment other people received.
That is not how we do business at our racetrack – and it’s certainly not indicative of how every track operates. I hope fans recognize this and realize the vast majority in this great sport (not just tracks, but NASCAR officials, drivers and owners, as well) are working hard for the fans and do have their priorities right.
We do not take our guests for granted and we pledge to do everything we can every day to make your experience at MIS the best it can be.
We won’t undercut our loyal customers with a knee-jerk ticket offer to make up for what happened on Saturday. But we will match what our loyal customers received by offering any race fan who has not had their expectations met at any racetrack with our lowest ticket price of the season for seats in Turns 1 and 3. Send us your race ticket and you can purchase a reserved ticket for $45 for the August 21 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway.
Roger Curtis, the president of Michigan International Speedway, is a 20-year veteran of motorsports administration. Before his time at MIS, Curtis was at Auto Club Speedway in California, Richmond International Raceway and Watkins Glen International in New York.
Involved in motorsports since 1991, he has owned his own motorsports marketing and communications company and has worked with Bobby Allison Motorsports, Bill Davis Racing and NASCAR Nationwide Series driver Bobby Dotter.
He’s a NASCAR fan and counts family time, the outdoors, music and cooking among his many interests.