NASCAR 2009 schedules teleconference, part 2

Continued from part 1 Q: Mike and Ed, given the clamor among Southeastern fans when the Labor Day race was moving to Darlington in the first race, Mike, was any consideration given to try to go ahead and restore some good faith among ...

Continued from part 1

Q: Mike and Ed, given the clamor among Southeastern fans when the Labor Day race was moving to Darlington in the first race, Mike, was any consideration given to try to go ahead and restore some good faith among the traditionalist and try to move the race back? Ed, do you feel you can satisfy that traditionalist feeling among Southeastern fans with the race at Atlanta? Rick, you're moving to Halloween weekend. I know years ago when you first moved to October you had some push back from Southeastern Conference football fans about being in the middle of their season. Are you at all concerned that this date would be even more sort of at the fever pitch time of the SEC schedule?

MIKE HELTON: The '09 schedule is a result of a realignment. The realignment is a result of requests that came from Atlanta and Auto Club Speedway that initiated the chain reaction of everything. Labor Day is a national holiday across the entire country. I think it's significant because it does, like Matt said earlier, signify, wherever you might be, kind of the end of summer as much as anything else.

But the result was a collaboration of Auto Club Speedway and Atlanta, so Darlington never was a factor in this conversation.

ED CLARK: From my standpoint, we certainly don't think we're going to replace Darlington. But I think what we've done is given Southeastern fans an opportunity to have an event back in the Southeast at a long time NASCAR Speedway. We'll be celebrating our 50th year of racing next year. This event certainly is going to be the keystone of that celebration.

It's a holiday weekend, as Mike said. It offers a lot of opportunities to people to maybe expand their attendance. There are a lot of attractions and things in and around Atlanta that they may enjoy as well as the race. We're going to call on those partners to help us build this weekend and make it really, really special. Our goal is to elevate the stature of our fall weekend, as I said. I think we can do that here in Atlanta. But first and foremost we've traditionally had tremendous racing here in Atlanta. The drivers love to race here. The fans enjoy the races. We're going to build on that. Add the element of the night racing which makes the cars, even as fast as they are in Atlanta, seem even faster. Just really make this a special weekend that becomes a tradition in itself, very much like Darlington has been for so many years.

RICK HUMPHREY: To answer the question about the Southeastern Conference football schedule, like I mentioned, in '97 we moved from the fall to a July date, as many of you probably recall, was less than desirable conditions to do anything, much less watch a race outside. What we have found since 1997, we've gone everywhere from late September to the third week into October just based on how we fell into the schedule. We've discovered that it appears every weekend from Labor Day to Thanksgiving is a big weekend in the Southeastern Conference from a football standpoint, especially when you've got Auburn and Alabama here.

What we have found is that the opportunities to market to those folks who are coming into town to watch those football games, we were able to market to them and provide them the opportunity to stay into our state and watch the race. While we're aware that the Southeastern Conference has big games week in and week out, we felt and have continued to both be able to have our place in the market on any given fall weekend.

Q: For the track operators, with the challenges these tracks have these days with attendance, today's announcement takes you out of the box a little bit that we've previously been in. In light of Humpy Wheeler opening a consulting company, is there any thought by any of you to pursue any outside ideas, whether from Humpy's company or any other place, for some new directions to go?

ED CLARK: Starting off from our standpoint, we've taken on the Blue Sky agency here in Atlanta. They work with the Atlanta Braves and a number of other sports franchises. They're lending some assistance to us in promotion and advertising. We see this as an opportunity, I won't call it a new start, but almost like a new event. We're gonna enhance the event. We're going to go beyond what we traditionally have done on race weekends to make the events special. They'll be involved in that as well as our staff and others.

So, yes, we're definitely taking a step forward with promotion, advertising and other things. Already working on that, as a matter of fact.

GILLIAN ZUCKER: I like to think that we already have a bunch of really creative and unique out-of-the-box ideas running here in California. We have a huge Latino outreach program that's been extremely successful. We've seen that grow considerably over the past three or four events. Some unique things that we've done with our partner, Miller Lite, a bar poster program all throughout Southern California. Some unique marketing partnerships with the military with our area sports franchises, everything from the Angels to college football, which is playing on Labor Day Monday in conjunction with this year's Pepsi 500. We have trucks that drive around the marketplace. We've done doorknob hangers that encourage people to attend the event, myspace, facebook and many, many others. That's something we intend to continue. We find anything you can do to more creatively reach people, especially in today's day and age, is a positive thing. It helps stretch budgets, to reach people in ways they weren't really anticipating generates curiosity to the sport and helps bring fans to the Speedway.

JERRY JAURON: I will reiterate what Gillian said. I've challenged our staff internally to throw the box away. We don't think within the box here at all at Iowa. Plus with kind of a spread-out fan base, this announcement today is such a huge milestone for our track. We've only been in existence two years officially next month. This just raises the ante, so to speak, of our abilities here at Iowa. Plus it's going to bring much more national exposure from a sponsorship and corporate partnership level here at Iowa Speedway versus mainly dealing with upper Midwest based companies. We see this as a huge opportunity. We do outsource our media buying and work with a number of strategic partners within the area to try to reach each and every household that are racing fans. Beyond that, we have pre and post race concerts. But more so we sell the entire event. For example, August 1st, 2009, there will be more than just a NASCAR Nationwide Series event here at Iowa Speedway. We'll have concerts and tailgating and race simulators, et cetera. You can come out and spend 10 hours and have entertainment or you can go to a different sports choice and only be entertained for a couple hours. So we're selling the entire experience. So far it's been very successful for us here at Iowa Speedway.

MATT ALEXANDER: Very consistent with what Jerry said, as well. We're in a unique position because we're in a traditional great sport like NASCAR at Chicagoland Speedway, but we're really the new kids on the block in this fantastic market of Chicago sports. We're not really out to replace the Cubbies, the Bears or the White Sox, but as I mentioned earlier, we're just trying to create a niche for ourselves in the market. That quite frankly starts with things like adding lights, like we did this year, and providing even a better experience like trucks, like we just announced today, and make sure that the fans understand when we open our doors, it's a once-a-year experience or twice-a-year experience. When we open our doors, Chicagoland Speedway is the place to be, and make sure we get the message out, but more importantly when they come here that really is the place to be and the experience they have with the competition on the track or with what Jerry is talking about, the entire experience they have, they walk away saying, You know what, this sport really is a key element at what we do in Chicago. If we continue to do that and continue to get the word out, then the success will come our way.

Q: Gillian and Mike, given the weather problems that have happened on the February date, kind of hit bottom this year with the rain-out and everything, what are the chances of getting away from that date as well?

GILLIAN ZUCKER: Well, as Mike had stated earlier, the request for date changes typically start at the track level. From our perspective, that's not one we've looked at yet. The track has been here for 11 years, and this is the first weather-affected event we've had of that nature. Our feeling is that generally speaking, weather in Southern California is pretty good most of the time. We've been very lucky and fortunate with weather. Hopefully that's out of the way and we won't experience weather conditions for a very long time.

But we certainly enjoy the idea of being the West Coast premiere of NASCAR. The television ratings for that event coming off of the Daytona 500 are incredibly strong in the nation's number two media market. That's a very important asset and we believe it's a great way to start the NASCAR schedule.

MIKE HELTON: Gillian is right. Throughout the history of NASCAR, we've had a long run at racetracks, then it would rain. We've also had a long run of rain at racetracks and then the sun would come out. It's hard to predict. As much as we have over at least the last couple decades of trying to put the tracks in the best-case scenario for weather, when you run 36 out of 40 some weeks, it's hard to do that. But weather is something that has an impact on us. But, you know, in most cases it's go on down the road and it will change. One week or two doesn't necessarily guarantee you a good weather weekend. But it happens. We're an outdoor sport. We're very dependent on a dry facility. Those things happen in our sport. We even had a rain-shortened race in Phoenix, Arizona, in October one year. You never know what might happen with Mother Nature involved.

But, yeah, I think February, and I agree with Gillian, I think February was a very unique situation after 11 years of running there, that was a unique moment. Hopefully it was and we can get back on to dry racing in California in February.

Q: How important to NASCAR is the Southern California market?

MIKE HELTON: It's huge. The Southern California market is huge to everybody, retail, wholesale, service, sports, entertainment, it doesn't matter. It's a huge influence in a lot of decision-making processes. It's equally huge to us as we have all the different stakeholders that we have in the sport, car sponsors, teams, official status companies, and certainly the fan base in Southern California or in that whole Southwestern part of the United States is very significant to NASCAR and the growth of NASCAR.

Q: Mike, I'd like to ask you about things looking ahead to the future, like Kentucky, like people looking for dates, people wanting to have dates. When we ask the drivers in the garages, they're like, Take us to new places. We're talking about double dates. Can you project into the future, not specifically with dates, but what does the landscape look like for that?

MIKE HELTON: I would start off by reminding everybody that we put the schedule together one year at a time. Today's announcement is our most modern, our most current look at the three national tours that NASCAR has, national series that NASCAR has.

I don't know what the future holds other than the fact that based on our experience, and I think if people looked at NASCAR's reaction to opportunities, the track operators looking at the opportunities that they might have or the thought processes, NASCAR reacting through realignment and different options, that we are open to looking at better ways of doing things for the entire industry, and particularly the fans.

But having said that, I couldn't tell you what the next five years might hold, but I would tell you that today is our most modern and most current look at our schedules.

Q: Mike and Jerry, you talked about some of the benefits that drew you to Iowa Speedway as far as the Nationwide date announced today. As far as bringing in fans from just not Iowa but surrounding states, how much do you think it will help that the track has gained a reputation for having some really good side-by-side competition? Do you think fans are going to appreciate that?

MIKE HELTON: Well, I think that fans expect that at NASCAR events across the board. Every facility we go to, every race weekend we bring NASCAR to a community, fans expect NASCAR-type racing, which is close side-by-side racing.

What helped us in the process at Iowa was the facility certainly is first class. It's a first rate, well thought out facility that accommodates and handles race teams, fans and the entire NASCAR community from our perspective in choosing a site to do what we do. So that's what really drew us to Iowa as a site for the Nationwide race in 2009.

JERRY JAURON: I want to thank Mike for those comments. In addition to that, to speak even further about our venue, there's not a bad seat in our house. From every seat at Iowa Speedway you can see the entire track and see it very well. There's no obstructions. So from a fan standpoint, it's very fan friendly that way, as well as Rusty Wallace's from the ground up construction and design of the facility has made it one of the favorites of the Cup drivers, the Nationwide drivers, all drivers that have tested our facility over the last two years.

We like to call ourselves a racy racetrack, and it definitely is. It gives a lot of fan entertainment and driver and team entertainment as well.

Q: Ed, were you disappointed that Atlanta now won't be in the Chase starting next year? Did that give you any pause in terms of signing on to the swap?

ED CLARK: That's certainly something we took a hard look at. At the end of the day we felt like the opportunity to have a night event in a summertime setting on a holiday weekend overshadowed the opportunity to be in the Chase. It was something we certainly looked at, considered and evaluated very diligently. Hopefully we're going to prove that we were right, so we both come out more favorably making the move we made.

Continued in part 3

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Drivers Rusty Wallace