NASCAR News

Interview with Chicagoland's Matt Alexander

 

June 9, 2004

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Matthew Alexander took time out during today's NASCAR test session to talk with the media about several topics concerning Chicagoland Speedway, as well as NASCAR.

Selected quotes from Matthew Alexander - Vice President/General Manager of Chicagoland Speedway:

Question: What has Nextel's involvement in NASCAR meant for the general race fan?
Answer: "I think Winston was a great partner and helped elevate NASCAR to where it is today. Winston was restricted for some of the things they could do for obvious reasons, regulations being number one. That's where Nextel comes into play because they can now take NASCAR more mainstream and get to different media outlets that maybe Winston couldn't."

"Nextel knows they need to be aggressive with all those who are fighting for market share and they see the NASCAR Cup Series as a way to do that. They also want to get a return on their investment in NASCAR and that is good for Chicagoland Speedway because they will be aggressive with getting the NASCAR brand out and selling it to make it more mainstream, something Winston also couldn't do."

Question: Will Chicagoland Speedway have the SAFER Barrier in place for the July 9-11 NASCAR weekend?
Answer: "We made the decision quite a few months ago that Chicagoland Speedway would install the SAFER Barrier. Quite frankly, the studies show that it is indeed safer. We try to improve the experience for everyone, especially the competitors. And, if part of that is making the race safer than we need to look serious at that. The SAFER Barrier was the obvious choice for us to improve the safety for the drivers. That's why we made the decision months ago to move forward with it and we are now in the process of making that happen. It will be in place before the Tropicana 400, NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race at Chicagoland Speedway."

Question: Have you consulted with any drivers for the SAFER Barrier at Chicagoland Speedway?
Answer: "I've been in conversations with various drivers at the events I've been at and the general sense in tone from them is that they are happy to see it come to Chicagoland Speedway."

"The drivers know better than anyone else about safety. We, fortunately, haven’t experienced hitting a wall at 200 mph and the way to get the best perspective is by hearing what they (drivers) are saying works. It's quite a substantial investment from our standpoint, but you can't quantify or qualify, or put a price tag, on someone’s' safety. I don't look at it in terms of a dollar. I try to look at the big picture and how to continue to make this sport safer and hopefully it comes out for the better for everybody."

Question: With hosting both NASCAR and IRL, how did you determine the areas of the race track that would have the SAFER Barrier?
Answer: "What we did was got input from both NASCAR and IRL in terms of what seems to be the best layout for both series, because we don't want to neglect one for the other. So, we took that into consideration and developed a plan that everybody seemed to be happy with.”

Question: Will Chicagoland Speedway have a second NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race in the future?
Answer: "I think NASCAR is extremely thrilled with what has happened at Chicagoland Speedway from not only the standpoint of fan support, but also television ratings locally have increased dramatically since we came in 2001. Obviously, the corporations in Chicago that are involved in NASCAR and could be involved, also makes it a very important market for them and a positive experience.”

"The challenges we face both short-term and even long term is one, weather, and second, how many dates do we have during the summer. So, the question is, how can we work that out? Obviously, Phoenix, California, Daytona and other tracks in warmer climates don't have that issue. We have that issue and tracks like Kansas also have that issue. So, there is definitely a tough scheduling challenge that we need to overcome, but we must continue to put on the races we have put on and continue to get the sponsor and media interest to grow, as well as the fan base. We've only begun to scratch the surface in terms of the growth in this market. We want to get to a point where NASCAR says we have to go to Chicago for a second race and figure out how the schedule could work.”

“NASCAR, I think, doesn't look at scheduling from the standpoint of ISC (International Speedway Corporation) owns this track, or ISC doesn't own that track. I believe they look at scheduling in terms of what makes sense for them. I'll go back to what I always say. We must continue to help grow the sport and do things the right way. Then, after we have some history behind us, we will be in line for a second date.”

Question: Will Chicagoland Speedway host a NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race in the future?
Answer: "We have been in discussion with NASCAR and quite frankly, Sears because they are in our backyard. As of right now, it's a matter of trying to make all the pieces fit. The desire is there from all three parties to have a truck race at Chicagoland Speedway. Our goal is to improve the race fan’s experience at the track and the trucks would definitely enhance the weekend. I wouldn’t be surprised if in the near future we have a truck race."

Question: Will Chicagoland Speedway install lights?
Answer: "That question goes back to if we have unlimited dollars to spend, I'd say install them right now. I'd love to see a weekend with a Friday night truck race, Saturday Busch race and obviously a Sunday Cup race, or something along that line. But, it's not as easy to say install lights at the track. You also have to remember that lights on the track means lights all around the facility, staffing, etc."

Question: Will Chicagoland Speedway add grandstand seats in the future?
Answer: "We are not looking to add seats in the immediate future. First, our egress and ingress traffic plan is solid. Relatively speaking, with almost 100,000 race fans driving in and out of the facility, we do an excellent job. If all of a sudden we added seats, but kept the same infrastructure in place, the plan wouldn't properly accommodate the extra fans. Until we can figure out a plan we feel can properly accommodate the extra 5,000 to 10,000 fans, we'll take adding seats slowly. Second, we're continuing to build our presence in the Chicago market and even though we have sold out our season each year and are proud of that fact, we still have yet to garner that huge demand for racing that is out there right now. What we don't want to do is add 25,000 seats and not have the demand there.”

Question: How well do you think racing is accepted in the Chicago media?
Answer: "That's really been one of the biggest challenges we have had. I think part of it is on us in that we need to earn our position in the Chicago sports landscape. Quite frankly, this is our fourth season and how long have the Cubs, Bears, White Sox been here? They have an incredible history built up and part of that history is that the media who continues to cover them year in and year out are familiar with the sport and have become fans. Even though we want the media to understand the sport and be fans of it, we have to be realistic of that until the mainstream media really get used to how big racing has become and follow it on heir own, that's when we’ll see the momentum shift. We've already seen the signs going in that direction, but we still have a long way to go. We need to continue giving the media a first-hand experience of the sport and let them see it and have access to it and it will then sell itself.

The author can be contacted nascar@autoracing1.com

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