Open-wheel racing is returning to Detroit’s Belle Isle Park this summer and the man who played a major role in bringing it back was in the area Monday afternoon.
Bud Denker, the senior vice president of Bloomfield Hills-based Penske Corp., addressed the Southern Wayne County Regional Chamber’s Legislative Forum here and said the arrival of IndyCar Series teams is great news for the region.
“Our biggest passion is Detroit," he said. “We are the Motor City and our lights are back on and we’re very bullish about what’s going to happen here."
The IndyCar Series returned to Belle Isle in 2007 but was discontinued after the 2008 season due to a lack of sponsorship funding. The race’s return to the city also marks a return of sorts for General Motors Corp.’s Chevrolet division, which also is getting back into open-wheel racing.
Chevy will manufacture engines for IndyCar teams for the first time in 15 years and will compete with power plants produced by Honda and Lotus.
Penske Chairman Roger Penske chaired the Super Bowl XL host committee and since then has helped push to bring major events to the city.
“The Super Bowl was a real turning point for the Detroit area," Denker said. “When Roger was asked what’ next, our answer was we need to continue to have big events.
“They bring us confidence that we can hold these events and bring in people from around the world."
Denker will oversee events of Grand Prix weekend, which begins June 1 and culminates with the June 3 Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix. The race will bring the IndyCar Series back to the Motor City for the first time in four years. Four different racing series will compete throughout the weekend.
The timing of the race is ideal — it comes a week after the series’ showcase event, the Indianapolis 500.
“We love that time," Denker said. “There’s not a lot of competition in terms of events in the area."
The race’s return also will mean significant improvements to the southern end of Belle Isle, Denker added, including an upgrade to the Scott Fountain that should make it difficult for vandals to remove copper tubing.
“We have another $300,000 to $400,000 to spend (on improvements)," he said. “We will have Belle Isle ready to go.
“Once we leave, the citizens will have it the rest of the summer with the improvements we have to make. We can’t be happier to put these improvements back at Belle Isle."
Organizers expect to have 35 to 40 companies on board as sponsors for the weekend and the response to the race’s return has been positive since it was announced in October.
Denker said ticket sales are 10 percent ahead of the same point in 2008 and that 39 of the 45 luxury chalet suites along the course already have been sold. The News Herald