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Volume 22 No. 35
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Earnhardt special on Spike a win for L.A. bureau

Editor's note: This story is revised from the print edition.

NASCAR’s Los Angeles-based entertainment bureau has spent considerable time in recent years trying to get off-channel content picked up by programmers. The satellite office will see some of that work pay off Monday when Spike premieres “I Am Dale Earnhardt” as part of its “I Am” series. The series profiles famous mavericks such as Evel Knievel, Steve McQueen and Bruce Lee.

Zane Stoddard, NASCAR vice president of entertainment marketing and content development, said the special “goes deeper than we’ve ever seen” on Dale Earnhardt Sr. and his “Intimidator” personality, including interviews with those who knew him closely as well as people whose lives were influenced by him. He added that for NASCAR, securing the special on a non-sports channel was particularly alluring as the sanctioning body continues its efforts to reach new and more diverse fans.

“Part of our new content strategy instituted two years ago was we would put considerably greater emphasis on off-channel content opportunities,” Stoddard said. “As part of that new content strategy, we are as aggressive — if not more aggressive — than most sports properties about developing and pitching content to off-channel networks.”

DAYTONA KEEPS RISING: Construction was back in full swing last week at Daytona International Speedway to complete the track’s renovation after the Daytona 500. One of the final pieces of the Daytona Rising project is the replacement of the existing press box tower. It’s a tricky process, according to officials with International Speedway Corp., the track’s ownership group. To make it happen, a gigantic crane is required. Its parts were transported on 40 semi-tractor trailers to the track, where it will be assembled on-site for the project.

Conducting major renovations while still operating has been a challenge for the racetrack.
Photo by: DON MURET / STAFF
“It’s a huge undertaking because we’re retaining a lot of the existing structure for the tower, but we have to modify it in a very specific sequence to keep the structural integrity,” said Derek Muldowney, an ISC executive vice president working on the renovation. “We have nine months to get this thing demolished and rebuilt. It’s a roughly 300,000-square-foot building, which is about 50 percent bigger than ISC headquarters (across the street from the track). We can’t afford to lose any time.”

The new press box will contain suites, race control operations and radio and television booths.

‘THE HIDDEN NEIGHBOR’: The immense challenge for going through a major renovation of a 150,000-seat facility while it remains in operation was a common thread among conversations with track officials and their redevelopment partners.

“To take on a project of this size, there’s inherently a lot of risk with regard to schedule, cost and safety,” Muldowney said. “We’re working through three hurricane seasons here, so we’ve got to plan for that and be ready for it and have mitigation lined up in case the worst happens.

“And then we’ve got to work around events like the Daytona 500, and there’s a lot of risk associated with that. Like all sports, the race is going to happen whether we’re ready or not. We have already worked through six major races and expended a lot of energy to get ready for those events.”

For builder Barton Malow, it’s been a herculean effort to pull off the job considering the complexities of starting construction, shutting it down for multiple NASCAR races, and then ramping it back up again after those events.

“We’ve tried to be the hidden neighbor with hope that when you go out there you don’t even realize you’re in the midst of a $400 million construction project,” said Jason McFadden, Barton Malow’s project manager. “It’s definitely an important part of the story for NASCAR to be able to do that.”

‘LAST AMERICAN FREEDOM’: Many NASCAR tracks stand out in sports for allowing their fans to bring food and beverage into the facilities, including alcohol. The policy has been in place for many years at Daytona, and things won’t change after the renovation is completed in January 2016.

ISC surveys fans after major events and its data shows more than 70 percent of race fans bring their own coolers into the track, a number that has fallen by 7 percent over the last two years, said Rishi Nigam, the company’s vice president of food and beverage.

Daytona has ramped up guest services.
Photo by: DON MURET / STAFF
“It’s something for us to balance,” Nigam said. “I always challenge my team to create value to get some of those fans to say it’s worth it to spend money here. We’ve done a good job of diversifying our menu, offering more combo packages and more items at a lower price.”

Daytona upholds a long NASCAR tradition of allowing fans to bring in food, according to track President Joie Chitwood.

“What Joie told me is the last remaining American freedom is to be able to take your own food into a NASCAR race,” Nigam said.

‘THE HUMAN SIDE’: As part of the track renovation, ISC officials had all guest services staff reapply to help improve the fan experience.

“We felt like since we’re making this huge capital expenditure in the property, we wanted to do the same thing on the human side,” Chitwood said. “We want to make sure we have the right people providing the right experience to match the investment.”

To lead the effort, Daytona brought in Jean Ann Bowman to serve as senior director of guest services. She held a similar position at Kansas Speedway for 7 1/2 years. In addition, Dan Pearson, a former event operations assistant for the Buffalo Bills, was hired as the speedway’s manager of guest admissions.

Todd Hardy, director of the Daytona Rising Venue Experience, came on board in June. He was previously an event manager with the Tampa Bay Rays for about 10 years.