Catching Up With Daytona Int'l Speedway President Joie Chitwood
Having grown up around motorsports as part of a family of stunt drivers, Joie Chitwood is no stranger to the Daytona 500, but this Sunday he will see the race in a whole new light as President of Daytona Int'l Speedway. Chitwood has had just over six months to prepare for the Great American Race, having taken the reins of the track in August after a brief stint at ISC. He moved to Daytona at a stressful time, inheriting an expansive, multimillion-dollar repaving project that by all accounts has been a success. Chitwood has already proven he can handle the demands of running a high-profile track, having spent five years as President of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and he's well on his way to making a positive first impression in Daytona. He recently took some time out of his busy schedule to chat with staff writer
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Q: What's the biggest challenge you've faced in your first six months on the job?
Chitwood: Well, here I am rolling into this new opportunity and I want to really see where we are from a staff perspective, resources. I've had a chance to run some big events and so I want to kind of put my stamp on things. But I also show up and I'm in the middle of a $20M repaving project that we have to get done on time so that we can get cars on the track. So you put those two together and it makes for a lot of sleepless nights, in terms of our preparation. It's kind of being new, trying to understand the team we've got and wanting to try to put some plans in place, but I don't have as much time on my hands because I'm worried about construction as well. I think you tie those two together, and it has made for a very challenging six months. But it's also exciting in and of itself, the chance to put new asphalt down and also to tweak how we're gonna operate the 500.
Q: Have you had a chance to look long-term much or have you mostly been leading up to this weekend?
Chitwood: We try and add a little bit of a long-term approach to it. I think for us it's trying to figure out what we need to continue to do to improve the property for our customer. Yeah, it's tough to do that when you've got the 500 coming up, but I think for me I try to take some notes every day about what I've seen or what I've experienced that I can put on the list to improve in the future; whether that's just from a training perspective with our staff, whether that's how we spend capital to improve the property, or just a process that maybe makes it a little bit smoother.
Q: Has the repaving project been your biggest focus in planning for the Daytona 500?
Chitwood: You know, it really has, because it's really dominated how we think about the event. You know, trying to get it done so we could get a December tire test. And our big January test was a great promotional opportunity for us to let the world know that we fixed the asphalt. So I don't think we really could have planned for this year's Daytona 500 without factoring in the repave and really getting the drivers to validate that the pave job was successful. Because as a promoter, I can tell our fans all day long, "It's great, it's great, it's great." But until a driver actually goes out there, gets out of his car and says, "Man, that was smooth," that's what our fans will believe. And that might cause them to react and maybe buy a ticket or watch us on TV again. So really the repave has almost been the main part of our marketing platform as we rolled into 2011.
Q: What would our readers be most surprised to learn about your typical day?
Chitwood: Managing events when you have this many folks show up on the property -- we have over 140,000 permanent seats and we camp people 24/7 inside our property. Heck, we've got the athletes themselves sleeping inside our gates. Imagine if the football players were spending the night at the stadium before the Super Bowl. So for us, we are in the mode of putting out fires. I can walk around with a fire hose all day long, just putting out fires. You just deal with things that pop up. Your team has to be ready; they can't get rattled by having to deal with things that just pop up here and there. For us, it's all about responding to the situation appropriately and doing our best to manage it moving forward. The team is well prepared for that. Very rarely do you have an event in which every single thing goes smoothly.
Q: How will you spend most of your day Sunday?
Chitwood: I have a lot of folks to meet and greet, say hello to. I have some media obligations and some pre-race obligations, in terms of addressing the crowd. We're changing the way we do driver introductions. We have a new format for that, so I'm really interested to see how that goes. I'll bounce around a bunch on race day. I try to spend at least the first couple laps in race control with NASCAR, just in case anything's going on that I need to know about. After that, I'll try and run around to some suites and say hey to our customers. I'll check in with Lesa Kennedy and make sure there's nothing on her list that she wants me to know about. I'll probably start making my way back down to the infield at some point to get ready for
Q: What are you looking forward to doing after Sunday is over?
Chitwood: Taillights in the driveway. The best part about any event for us is when the customers are getting in their cars and you see their taillights as they drive out of the parking lot. That means we've accomplished what we were supposed to. There is that sense of relief that they're finally off the property and heading home. For us, that's truly when the checkered flag waves, not at the end of the race, but when the customers leave the property.