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Bud Denker revved about plans for next year's Belle Isle Grand Prix
Bud Denker talks to Roger Penske
Bud Denker divulged a few secrets as we drove around the Belle Isle racetrack Monday in a black SUV, a lot slower than the IndyCars on Sunday, when Frenchman Simon Pagenaud roared to victory.

Denker, chairman of the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix, slowed as we went by the James Scott Memorial Fountain and the large sparkling pond.

“We dyed the water using a non-toxic material,” said Denker proudly. “We did it last week. We drained 5.6-million gallons of water and put new water in. It looks pretty good.”

It did, because I remember the pond when it could have been used in a remake of the “Creature from the Black Lagoon.”

Whatever Denker poured into the water worked.

Denker has become something of a Belle Isle wizard. Last year, he saved what could have been a disaster for the race when the track crumbled during the IndyCar race and needed immediate repairs.

Denker got down on his knees (and prayed, I’m sure) and helped repair the circuit so the event could be restarted and Detroit spared from ridicule.

The race, after a two-hour delay, was finished.

Denker later sat on a motor scooter near the exit bridge over the race course and apologized to fans for what happened. On Sunday, he was at the same spot after the second “Indy Dual in Detroit” 70-lap race and thanked folks for coming to Belle Isle.

Denker isn’t patting himself on the back for the track staying intact this past weekend. In fact, he already is planning a better Belle Isle Grand Prix for 2014, with better grandstand viewing, more improvements to the 2.3-mile race circuit and a crossover bridge on the main straight that would allow fans seated in stands and chalets on the outside of the track to conveniently access the paddock and garage area near the casino building.

Denker wants to improve the racing at Belle Isle and the experience for fans.

The second secret Denker told me on our lap around the track: between the Pirelli World Challenge Championship race and IndyCar event Sunday, he had track workers put down a coating of sealant on the tarmac around Turn 12 to make sure a section of road there wouldn’t break up.

Said Denker, a senior executive for Penske Corp.: We put down coating on the white lines on the road. No one knew about it. We did so because cars on the island park there throughout the year and drop oil and transmission fluid all over and degrade the surface. We couldn’t take a chance the IndyCars would rip it up. We used the kind of sealant that dries in 30 minutes. We also used blowers to dry it off.”

Denker wants to attract what he calls the casual fan to the races at Belle Isle next year as well as the enthusiast. He knows he’ll get the support and hopes he’ll get the money from his boss, Roger Penske, to do it, but he is expecting the IndyCar series brass to pitch in, too — and the Tigers, Lions, Red Wings and Pistons, perhaps.

No, Denker isn’t looking for cash from Detroit’s major sports franchises, but he’d like them to make their players available for autograph sessions and appearances at Belle Isle over race weekend.

“We had 23 Red Wings players — led by the captain Henrik Zetterberg — who turned up a couple hours before Sunday’s IndyCar race,” Denker said. “I’d love to have an autograph session, schedule permitting, for them next year along with players from the Pistons, Lions and Tigers if possible. It would be great to build a relationship around the race with Detroit’s pro athletes.”

Denker said he’ll relocate the double-decker corporate chalets in Turns 8 to 11 to the main straight for 2014. He said patrons want the view of pit lane.

He’ll also widen and heighten existing stands at the end of the straightaway for better viewing.

“We need to step up and IndyCar needs to step up to build on this event in the Motor City,” he said.

Denker already has done one thing he said is key to next year’s IndyCar race here — he has said he wants the doubleheader race format used this weekend back.

“I’ve already portioned for that,” he said. “I want it because it is good for the fans and our sponsors. This (race) series right now needs to be shaken up a little bit. Doing the same old things is not enough anymore. We have to move the needle on the dial.” Detroit Free Press

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