MIS fans show their loyalty Neither rain, nor fog, nor the threat of missing work or school could keep Michigan International Speedway’s race fans away Tuesday.
Race fans turned out in droves to attend the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series 3M Performance 400 two days past its scheduled date. Persistent rain postponed the race not once, but twice. The race was scheduled to run Sunday, Aug. 19, but finally got under way Tuesday.
“No other sports fans in the world are like NASCAR fans,” speedway President Roger Curtis said. “They battled postponements, long, cold days in the rain and mud. They even battled fog. Other sports fans would have thrown in the towels and umbrellas long before Tuesday.”
3M Performance 400 race winner Kurt Busch agreed. “For all the fans to be here on a Tuesday — I’m sure some of them might not have a job when they show up for work tomorrow morning,” Busch said. “There’s some diehard fans in this area … The heart that NASCAR fans have and their drive to be out here and give up a little family time or whatever it might have been, to see them here at the track was incredible. And to have a great finish like we did, going all the way to a green-white-checkered, the fans got their money’s worth.”
Michigan International Speedway had not experienced a rain-forced postponement in 30 years. The last rain postponement at the track occurred in August 1977 during the then-NASCAR Winston Series Champion Spark Plug 400, eventually won by Darrell Waltrip. The race took place on a Monday.
NASCAR statistical pundits believe this weekend’s Michigan event was the first time in the history of the sport that a race was forced into a consecutive two-day postponement.
Curtis said the weather conditions tested the race fans, and became a valuable learning tool for him and the staff. The condition of the track’s nine campgrounds and 10 parking lots throughout the 1,400 acres was muddy and rutted following National Weather Service estimates of about three inches of rain in two days.
Curtis said repairs need to be done to the parking and RV lots in the off-season to prepare for 2008. He has already contacted the speedway’s parent company, International Speedway Corporation in Daytona Beach, Fla., to ask for funds to repair and improve the lots and is confident they’ll agree.
The challenges of the rain delays also allowed the staff to experience other facets of the speedway as many of the full-time employees took on additional duties throughout the event. The speedway relies on many volunteer and part-time event groups to staff the track during race weekends. As days passed, the staffing grew thin so full-time speedway employees and employees from other racetracks and several area service groups jumped in and helped out.
Curtis drove trams and parked cars; Andy Longenberger, the speedway’s corporate sales director, stubbed tickets at the gates; Information and Technology Lead Linda Baca, who flew in to work the event from Daytona Beach, Fla., worked in a food concession booth selling hot dogs and hamburgers; even Kaitlin Corner, a college intern in the Communications Department, drove a courtesy shuttle for disabled guests.
Additional fire crews were brought in from Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill., and Watkins Glen International in New York to staff the event when many of the speedway’s regular force of fire and safety crews needed to head back to their “real” jobs.
“It’s all in a day’s work to pitch in where we’re needed,” Curtis said. “But nothing we did even compares to what the fans went through the past few days. They endured a lot and we will always appreciate them.”
Some of the race fans noticed the staff’s dedication. Shari Mehlhose from Bay City, Mich., wrote to the speedway staff on Monday, and said: “I just wanted to say a big thank you to all the staff at MIS. They have made the best out of a bad situation the last few days due to the rain. Not once have I heard any of them complain. Through it all, they had a smile on their faces.”