SMI's Smith, NHRA's Force, Infineon Raceway's Page transcript

Speedway Motorsports, Inc. Press Conference Transcript A press conference was held on Friday at Infineon Raceway, which is hosting the FRAM Autolite NHRA Nationals this weekend. The press conference was held to discuss the increased involvement...

Speedway Motorsports, Inc. Press Conference Transcript

A press conference was held on Friday at Infineon Raceway, which is hosting the FRAM Autolite NHRA Nationals this weekend. The press conference was held to discuss the increased involvement in the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series by Speedway Motorsports Inc., as well as the inaugural NHRA national event at zMAX Dragway at Concord at Lowe's Motor Speedway in Charlotte, Sept. 11-14.

Members of the panel were:

Marcus Smith: Chief Operating Officer and President of SMI, President and General Manager of Lowe's Motor Speedway.
Steve Page: President and General Manager of Infineon Raceway.
John Force: Driver of the Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang Funny Car.

SMI has enhanced its investment in NHRA with the addition of zMAX Dragway at Concord. Talk about your inaugural event and what you have planned.

MS: I don't feel right about going before the king of drag racing (John Force), it doesn't seem right. We're looking forward to having John Force there and the rest of the NHRA, Sept. 11-14, and we've got a really monumental facility ready to go for everybody here and all the drag racing fans around the world. It's going to be fantastic and the John Force grandstand is filling up quick, so all your friends need to call 1-800-455-FANS to get their seats.

Can you talk about what makes your drag strip unique?

MS: Well, we have just a great team that shows up every day at Lowe's Motor Speedway, about 130 people who work hard to make it the most fan-friendly place on earth, next to Infineon Raceway, of course. I really feel like when I'm here in Sonoma that it feels like Southern hospitality, it feels like home, people are so nice and we love coming out here. We've got some extra-special things ready to go for people: 30,000 seats, tons of paved parking areas in the pits, four concrete lanes at zMAX Dragway and one of the longest run-off areas in the sport, and we're really excited to have John and all his friends there come race with us.

John, talk about the new Dragway and what you're expecting.

JF: Well, Bruton Smith and his family, with his son coming along, they're paving the way for a lot of good things. I go back to when we bulldozed Bristol and they made all the changes at Bristol, and Las Vegas, I still have the chrome shovel that Bruton gave me. To see the investments and the millions they're investing, like they have here at Infineon, a multi-purpose park they give the fans a place to go and media a great way to enjoy NHRA drag racing. At the end of the day, they're investing in NHRA drag racing, and that's the key. If we're ever going to catch NASCAR, we need these types of facilities to grow our sport like this that are fan friendly, they can eat and have good seats, have elevators for old guys like me. I'm excited about it, to have Bruton's group keep investing and investing. I went down to Charlotte and the tracks that he builds just get better and better, and this place is state of the art. And, this place they put right in the heart of NASCAR country. The NASCAR fans come over, so I think it's a win, win situation. I see a four-lane highway, Bruton just couldn't get enough, and I know some racers question two race tracks, but if you go back 30 or 40 years ago, someone had that concept before, but somehow it faded out, and I'm glad they brought it back. If you have a bad situation, it may not be the track you ran the round before, but at least there will be another track to race on, and what we need to do is produce TV and oil downs kill us.

MS: I heard earlier today that in Rockford, Ill., where I was born and my dad spent about 10 years of his life, there was a four-lane dragway there, and I think that's where he got the idea.

JF: What is really cool is to see a stadium going up, and it's really beautiful, it's really nice and it's got everything you need, grandstands, plenty of shut-off area. Just like this place here. Infineon is my place like I own it. We've got plenty of room to grow, and, you know, NHRA is addressing the issues of 1,000-foot for pro cars for now, but when you know you've got room to grow, that makes a lot of things possible and you know you've got hope for the future. All my buddies in NASCAR are down there, and I know the money lays around in those areas, but at the end of the day I think it's going to be neat. Another thing, Rockingham, which was north or south, I don't remember which, we used to pack it in there, and it's a huge marketplace. Nothing gets bigger than Charlotte. The real cool thing that really turned me on... When I went to Charlotte for the NASCAR race, what was really neat is it was so busy that day and I thought, 'I'm going to take a break and get away from the people, and go downtown and get me a steak.' I went downtown and the whole town was on fire and the city opens its arms to NASCAR. I went right down where they were at, and I loved it. There's a big opportunity and that will only grow the sport of NHRA drag racing.

NHRA has enjoyed an incredible amount of growth over the last few years, and Infineon Raceway has enjoyed a lot of that growth. Steve, can you talk about that growth?

SP: When you look at the economic backdrop and the fact that we're adding seats because we're selling out of reserved seats. As John has been saying nice things about us, I want to say something nice about him. One of the things that helps this sport develop a loyal following is the racers and their understanding of how important it is to interact with the fans and do publicity events and meet fans and do charity events, like the Eric Medlen Nitro Night. The racers understand how important it is to have that interaction with the fans. I think that has a lot to do with how successful we are.

Marcus, you mentioned the John Force Grandstand in Concord. Did John buy that grandstand?

MS: He had to have a place for all of his friends. John Force is drag racing. He is the king of drag racing and we had to have a special place to honor him. So, we've got, right at the starting area, the prime grandstand at zMAX Dragway is the John Force Grandstand.

JF: I saw the sign for it when they sent it to me, and I wanted to make sure my picture was perfect, and there was no picture. So, I called up Bruton and I said 'Where's my picture? Earnhardt got his picture in Vegas on the wall.' He said, 'He's a lot cuter than you, and we don't want to scare anyone away, so we figured the name would be good enough.'

Marcus, there has been talk for a long time about SMI purchasing the NHRA. Where does that stand now?

MS: We have had an interest for some time in making an acquisition, but right now the front burner is zMAX Dragway and what we're doing there. We want to grow the sport, make it better and really put a lot back into it because the fans deserve it and the sport deserves it. If the time arrives, we never say never, but for now we're focused on zMAX Dragway.

What is the status of the track now in terms of your progress?

MS: We started in February with construction, that's when we broke ground, and we'll be ready to go in about three weeks. We've got all four lanes paved, and we've got some furniture to move in, and we're ready to go. We're actually going to have a special Open House event for our neighboring fans around the Speedway and invite some folks in a few weeks. It's going to be a fun event to give the fans a chance to go and see the Dragway before we open it up for the big event, Sept. 11-14.

JF: Just for the record, I talked to some of the contractors and I thought 'How is this going to happen?' And, one of the contactors said, 'Bruton and his son, Marcus, they're sparing no expense, they were going to deliver this race track for the NHRA.' I'm excited because this is a new ballpark in a huge, new market to go play. We took our Old Spice hot rod there for the Coke 600 earlier this year, and Mike Neff did a big old burnout in the Old Spice car and those NASCAR guys were lined up. They loved it, and the fans loved it. We wanted to give them a little taste of what we do. If you get a chance, look at the pictures because they've really outdone themselves on this track.

MS: The NHRA has just the greatest fans and the greatest drivers. You guys do the best job of being fan friendly and that's what it's all about. Everything we do at all of our speedways is about the fans first. That's why we're spending $60 million in Concord to make the best Dragway we can.

With the declining state of so many of the drag strips around the country, is there any interest in purchasing those tracks and renovating them to the level of this facility?

MS: I hadn't thought about that. It's a good idea. We like the speedways where we're at, but we're always interested in opportunities, so never say never. Right now we're completing zMAX Dragway, and making things better in New Hampshire and we've got another acquisition to close in Kentucky.

With a four-lane track like the one at zMAX Dragway, would that have helped with an oildown situation like we had tonight?

JF: You have to give it to the NHRA guys because they were going back and fourth, and working hard to fix the situation. The hard part with the four-lane is they have to be prepped, maybe you run the pro guys on one side and the other guys on the other, but if you got into a situation where water happened to come up in the track, but with this track, it's elevated, so the water will run off this racetrack. The problems we've had at other tracks, we won't have here. We've evolved these tracks and we've seen all the mistakes made in the past. Without a doubt, you're going to have racers that argue that 'I like that lane, but you're going to make me go in that lane.' But, at least you have a lane where the race can go off. So, if there is a catastrophic oildown, you salvage TV and we all grow, that's the key to this.

MS: We think it can help keep the show moving, there's not doubt to that. Maybe you put the Pro Stock guys in one pair of lanes where they have different rack prep needs, and you put the other guys, or you put nitro guys in the other pair of lanes, there's a good opportunity to keep the show moving.

-credit: nhra/irsp

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Series NHRA
Drivers John Force , Eric Medlen , Mike Neff