SPORTS

NASCAR CEO confident in Iowa Speedway

Brian France happy with Small, new management team and their progress

NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France speaks with the media as part of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Banquet on Dec. 5, 2013 in Las Vegas. France said he’s eager to see what Iowa Speedway President Jimmy Small and his management team can do to improve the fan experience. (Chris Graythen/NASCAR via Getty Images)
NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France speaks with the media as part of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Banquet on Dec. 5, 2013 in Las Vegas. France said he’s eager to see what Iowa Speedway President Jimmy Small and his management team can do to improve the fan experience. (Chris Graythen/NASCAR via Getty Images)

 

It’s been well-established Iowa Speedway is a proving ground for future NASCAR stars.

But it’s also a proving ground for NASCAR and its management to use.

Before Brian France became chairman and CEO of NASCAR in 2003, he had to spend time on the proving grounds as well, his being at Tucson Raceway Park in Arizona. So when NASCAR purchased the speedway in Newton and was looking for a president, Jimmy Small was hand-picked to go through the paces France once went through himself.

“I think part of it probably was (the reason),” France said of Small experiencing what he did on his path through NASCAR management. “That is the path that I went. One of the things that is for sure is that he gets to run something. He’s in charge. And that will be a great experience.

“We have high expectations for him and he’s a guy who’s going to be, I hope, in our industry for a long time.”

France and NASCAR don’t make decisions lightly.

Whether it’s hiring Small because of his potential to advance up the NASCAR ladder — something France said was a key hire and one he’s extremely happy with so far — or if it’s acquiring the place where he gets to do just that.

When NASCAR purchased Iowa Speedway last fall, there was clear purpose behind the decision. It didn’t simply buy Iowa Speedway to stash it away. France felt it could be a financially viable facility that has major upside if given the right attention and managed the right way.

“It’s big enough (in size) to host major events,” France said of racing and non-racing events at Iowa Speedway. “We love Iowa and we’ve always liked it. The Midwest — particularly Kansas and Iowa — it’s a great place. Our fans in those markets love and support Iowa Speedway. There’s a lot of good reasons why we landed where we did with Iowa Speedway.

“We’re focused on getting the facility managed in a different way, and looking at some additional events in motor sports and non-motorsports that we may be looking at in the future.”

Small said Iowa Speedway could play host to all manner of concerts and trade shows, while special racing events have been considered as well.

A potential criticism surrounding Iowa Speedway is its location, and the market as compared with other tracks on the circuit.

But France doesn’t look at Newton being somewhat remote as a negative at all. Coupled with the size of the grounds surrounding the track — making accessibility easier and the fan experience overall better — proximity to the biggest markets in Iowa and the on-track product, there’s great potential for Iowa Speedway to be featured in new special events centered around lower divisions.

“I think it certainly is when you look at all the surrounding areas with Des Moines and (Cedar Rapids),” France said. “We’ll get to the different events that are available to bring in. No question, there’s opportunity there and we’ll look into it, definitely.”

NASCAR isn’t in the business of owning and operating race tracks just for fun, either. It wouldn’t have purchased the speedway if there wasn’t a chance to be profitable while also improving fan experience.

And when France comes to Newton this weekend to take in the Get to Know Newton 250, he won’t be worried, he said.

The hire he made in Small and everyone at Iowa Speedway are proving it already.

“We really just want to take care of the race fans differently than they have been in the past,” France said. “I think we’re going to be just fine on all that (financial and attendance numbers) as it plays out.”

l Comments: (319) 368-8884; jeremiah.davis@sourcemedia.net

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