For Michael Printup, it feels as if Watkins Glen International is preparing to host a Christmas dinner with about 100,000 guests at the house — and sometimes he feels as if he is the kid getting ready for Christmas morning.
"I always get excited for what the show brings," the Watkins Glen president said less than two weeks before the 2.45-mile road course's annual NASCAR race weekend that includes the Sprint Cup Series Cheez-It 355 at The Glen and the Xfinity Series Zippo 200. "But, it's a lot of details to take care of."
One of those details is a repaving project that saw the racetrack get a fresh coat asphalt across its full length, which measures 3.4 miles with an additional section called The Boot included.
Printup said the revamped surface is getting positive reviews from drivers of all the series that have run on it — including the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship's Sahlen's Six Hours at The Glen earlier this month, the Verizon IndyCar Series that tested at the track in June and will return there for a race Labor Day weekend, and the Sprint Cup Series that hosted a tire test in June and organizational test last week.
"You hear the word most drivers are using is grippy," he said. "You're going to see some better, faster speeds than you've seen. … I'm excited for the fans. I'm excited for the media and the drivers. I think it's just going to help put on that much more of a show for the fans at the track and on TV."
Printup said the track needed the repaving badly. Officials had been patching the track for several years to the tune of $1 million per year when they decided it made more sense to undertake the repaving for $11 million.
The repaving caps off an evolution that has seen Watkins Glen play host to some of the most exciting racing on the NASCAR circuit. As well as the drivers and the cars just getting better on the road courses, Printup said the track itself has helped by upgrading the curbing and other areas of the track to help the drivers and cars go faster.
"We definitely made some track improvements that helped the drivers over the years, now especially the repave," he said. "The safety is there, but the driving excitement is bar none. There's no question the two road courses (Sonoma Raceway in California being the other one) are putting on the best racing for the fans to watch, and we're all seeing the benefits of that."
Heading into the NASCAR race weekend, Printup said Watkins Glen has seen attendance increase for the third-straight year. The track even plans to add to the customer experience next year with a fan deck on the drivers' left side going through the esses in Turns 3 and 4.
"It's getting better and better and better," Printup said. "We look forward to releasing that and building that."
It is things like that that led to Watkins Glen being named the Best NASCAR Track by USA Today 10Best through the results of its reader vote, an honor that Printup called "quite humbling."
"After seven years of being there, I still sit back and say, 'Holy cow.' It's pretty incredible that I'm able to have this job. We have the best team in motorsports, and they know how to put on a show. I've got the easy job. I get to just go around and suck in all the happiness. It's a lot of fun what our team does."
The track president will get to suck in even more happiness Labor Day weekend when the IndyCar Series returns to Watkins Glen for the first time since 2010.
Printup said keeping America's premier open-wheel series at Watkins Glen was one of his desires when he became president, but the track and the sanctioning body could not come to an agreement despite hard work on both sides.
But, with new management at IndyCar — President of Competition and Operations Jay Frye and Vice President of Promoter Relations Stephen Starks — Printup said the two sides met in April to discuss a race at Watkins Glen in 2017.
When organizers canceled plans in May for the Boston Grand Prix through the streets of Boston's Seaport District Labor Day weekend, Frye called Printup to begin talks about putting Watkins Glen in its place for the date.
"Boston called Indy and said, 'The deal's off. Forget it.' They canceled. The president's next phone call was to me," Printup said. "That was pretty humbling. I laugh because we're good friends. We've known each other for a long, long time. I laugh because that was pretty awesome that he did make that phone call."
By 9 p.m. that night, Printup and Frye were talking about the details for bringing the IndyCar Series to Watkins Glen, and by the following Sunday, they had the business deal done and turned over to their attorneys for review.
"We were both pretty proud. We both had the desire to put that together. It came together quick, but there was a lot of desire on both sides," Printup said. "I'm excited. I grew up an open-wheel fan. … I've kind of been bred into open-wheel."
With only 90 days to promote the IndyCar Grand Prix at The Glen — "you need a year or more to promote a race," Printup said — he said Watkins Glen knows it will not set any attendance records Labor Day weekend.
Still, he said, the goal is to put on a good enough show with a good enough response from fans to continue the conversation with IndyCar and talk about making the series an annual event at Watkins Glen again.
"As long as we have a good, respectable turnout from corporate media consumers, I think we have something to talk about," Printup said. "I'm hoping that we can have a good conversation during the weekend and I hope that we have good support Labor Day weekend and we can hopefully continue that relationship with IndyCar." Jonathan Monfiletto/Auburnpub.com