New infield scoreboard among latest upgrades at Michigan Speedway

It’s been another busy offseason of makeovers at Michigan International Speedway.

Fans attending the ARCA, NASCAR Nationwide and NASCAR Sprint Cup series events at MIS this weekend will notice plenty of changes, including a new tower scoreboard in the infield, an expansion of the pedestrian tunnel under the race track at the start/finish line and the removal of three grandstands between turns 3 and 4.

The latest improvements are part of nearly $60 million in upgrades at MIS during the past five years.

Many of the ideas for recent improvements have come directly from interactions with fans through surveys, a fan advisory board and emails and letters from fans, said MIS director of guest services Tim Booth.

"We’re committed to the guests who make the decision to visit MIS," Booth said. "We put a lot of value into our exchanges with those guests."


Year — Capacity
1968 — 25,983
1981 — 27,983
1982 — 30,775
1985 — 34,463
1986 — 37,311
1987 — 39,205
1988 — 46,817
1989 — 49,814
1990 — 51,341
1991 — 54,159
1992 — 66,173
1993 — 72,916
1994 — 77,991
1995 — 88,141
1996 — 98,276
1997 — 106,775
1998 — 111,899
1999 — 125,445
2000 — 136,384
2003 — 136,373
2005 — 137,243
2007 — 132,000
2010 — 120,000
2011 — 106,000

MIS also has improved and paved a tram route outside the speedway between Lot 10 near Turn 1 to the New Holland Fan Plaza behind the main grandstand. The speedway’s fleet of 40 trams can transport as many as 2,000 fans at one time during a race weekend.

"Some of the changes may not be the sexiest things, but as far as enhancing the fan experience in a practical way, they’re big upgrades," Booth said.

The most visible of the upgrades is the new scoreboard in the infield.

Don Bell Signs of Port Orange, Fla., has replaced the 108-foot-tall infield tower scoreboard that was erected in 2008 at a cost of $2.35 million with a model that is nearly 155 feet tall.

The new scoreboard will include a larger LED area that will be able to display even more track announcements, advertising messages and race information.

The new board will display as many as the top-14 race leaders at any one time. The previous tower displayed leaders in groups of three.

"We were the first race track in NASCAR to get an LED scoreboard, and other tracks over the last couple of years have followed suit," MIS president Roger Curtis said. "We have now looked at other tracks and discovered things from other scoreboards that could make ours even better, and we are implementing some of those things."

The removal of some of the grandstands has opened up area between turns 3 and 4 and reflects the drop in ticket demand during the past decade.

The elimination of the grandstands has reduced the seating capacity of MIS by about 14,000. The capacity of the grandstand is now listed by the speedway at 106,000 seats for the 2011 season.

The speedway listed a seating capacity as high as 137,243 grandstand seats for the 2005 and 2006 seasons. This year marks the first time since 1997 that MIS does not have a seating capacity larger than that of the University of Michigan football team’s Michigan Stadium, which has a capacity of 109,901.

MIS has spent the past five years replacing segments of its grandstands and reconfiguring its existing grandstands to make the seats wider. The reduction of 30,000 seats is not so much a concession that the popularity of NASCAR and MIS has waned in recent years as it is a continued effort by the speedway and parent company International Speedway Corp. to enhance the fan experience.

Seating capacity expanded by leaps and bounds from 51,341 in 1990 by nearly 10,000 a year until it topped 136,000 in 2000.

The population of the infield within the 2-mile oval was estimated at 25,000 throughout much of the ’90s and early 2000s.

That set the unofficial track record attendance at just more than 160,000, though the track’s policy is to not release exact attendance figures.

Attendance has dropped in recent years to something closer to 100,000 for the Sunday NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race.

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