SBJ/20100830/This Week's News
Chitwood aims to put Daytona trip on sports fans’ bucket list
Published August 30, 2010
Joie Chitwood III is now a member of an elite club. Only Chitwood and John Cooper have run the two most iconic speedways in the country, Daytona and Indianapolis. Chitwood left Indianapolis Motor Speedway to go to work for International Speedway Corp. a year ago, and on Aug. 13 was named president of ISC’s crown jewel, Daytona International Speedway. Brought up in a family of stunt drivers, Chitwood knows racing and knows how to put on a show. He recently talked about the move with SportsBusiness Journal staff writer Michael Smith.
Who would want to hinge his career to a job selling tickets right now?
Chitwood: Some goofball who used to be a stuntman. I’ve never turned down a challenge. … The great opportunity is that this is the birthplace of NASCAR, this is where they were running on the beach, so we’ve got something going for us that maybe some don’t. We’ve got to tell fans how special this property is. It’s not just about the hours they’re in the grandstands, this is where it all started. A trip here needs to be on your bucket list if you’re a sports fan. I get to tell that story to anyone who will listen. Is it going to be easy? Absolutely not. We’re living in a world that has changed so much in the last three years, but people still need the opportunity to enjoy themselves and enjoy the competition and pageantry of racing.
Did you pursue this job?
Chitwood: This was not the original plan when I came to ISC. I was really excited to understand the workings of a public company, how it managed capital and the racing experience across all of these venues. I’m a racer, I’ve been in motorsports all my life. When given this opportunity, how do you turn it down? I’m from Florida, my family has been purchasing tickets to the 500 for over 26 years and we still have them. To be coming here as a teenager and now to be president, it’s very exciting.
You have said: “We are going to do it right.” How far away from “right” is it?
Chitwood: We’ve got a great team here. I’m not coming in and saying that we haven’t done things right. I have expectations of setting the bar high. We should lead the industry and people should look to us for how we do things. We will set the example for others to chin up to. I don’t know exactly what that means for the guest experience or value pricing, but we are going to be the leader in this industry.
Any other personnel changes expected at DIS?
Chitwood: I don’t have a plan per se to make significant changes. We’ll look at the resources, how we’re doing, what we can do better, and then figure out the plan moving forward. But we are living in challenging times. ISC corporate is restructuring, and there are going to be challenges moving forward that we’ve got to handle.
While the Daytona 500 appears to be healthy, the Sprint Cup race around July 4 has really taken a hit. What are the plans there?
Chitwood: Each event has its own personality. They used to run that race at 10 a.m., and by 3 everybody was at the beach having a good time. I think Dale Earnhardt Jr. putting the Wrangler No. 3 in victory lane [in the Nationwide Series event] shows that this is still a stage where special things can happen. We have to make sure its identity is different than the 500, make sure it’s unique. I like running under the lights. There’s also more of a local flavor with the 400, where the 500 pulls fans from across the country. We’ve got to appeal to the local fans. … [As for schedule changes] other than the Daytona 500 starting the season, everything is under review. Shame on me if I said, “No, everything’s fine, we’re not changing anything.” We’ll look at things very critically and if we decide we need to change dates, then we’ll do what we need to do. We’re going to do whatever makes the most sense for the customers.