Michigan International Speedway - home of the state's largest single-day,
paid-admission sporting events since 1991 - is a track rich in racing tradition.
The track is nestled on more than 1,400-plus acres in the Irish Hills of
southeastern Michigan. Groundbreaking took place on September 28, 1967. Over 2.5
million yards of dirt were moved to form the D-shaped oval designed by Charles
Moneypenny, who previously designed the 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway.
The original layout included infield and exterior roads, which could be combined
to form a single 3.1-mile interior/exterior road course, or divided into
separate 1.9-mile interior/exterior road courses. The road courses were designed
by Formula One great Stirling Moss and are still used on a limited basis for
passenger car testing by area law enforcement agencies. The last interior road
course race was held in 1984, and the last time the exterior road course was
used was in 1973.
THE LOPATIN ERA
The prime mover in the venture was Lawrence H. LoPatin, a Detroit-area land
developer who built the speedway at an estimated cost of $4-6 million. The
saucer-shaped, 18-degree banking provided exciting racing right from the start.
The Inaugural Race took place on October 13, 1968. The 250-mile Indy-style event
posted a purse second at the time only to the Indianapolis 500. Ronnie Bucknum
collected $20,088 as the first driver to take the checkered flag.
Cale Yarborough won the first NASCAR race at the speedway on June 15, 1969, in a
thrilling duel with LeeRoy Yarbrough. The two drivers battled door-to-door for
most of the final 150 laps. On their final circuit, they touched twice-entering
turn one, with Yarbrough brushing the outside wall. They then drafted down the
back straight, and through turn three. But while coming out of the final turn,
LeeRoy Yarbrough spun and crashed just 300 yards from the finish line, handing
the victory to Yarborough.
Since then, MIS has hosted a number of historic races and many legendary
drivers. Richard Petty, Mark Donohue, A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, Parnelli Jones,
Gordon Johncock, Emerson Fittipaldi, Al Unser, Bobby Allison, Buddy Baker, Neil
Bonnett, David Pearson, Davey Allison, Rick Mears, Dale Earnhardt, Buddy Rice,
Alex Zanardi and Jeff Gordon all have celebrated wins in Victory Circle at
Michigan International Speedway. MIS has honored these drivers and all of its
past champions in the Walk of Champions area in the AAA Motorsports Fan Plaza.
LoPatin has been called a visionary and a man well ahead of his time. In an era
well before motorsports became part of mainstream America, he dreamed of owning
speedways in Michigan, Georgia, Texas, California and New Jersey - all hot spots
for speedways today. LoPatin selected the land MIS sits on today for its
proximity not only to Detroit, the Motor City Capital of the World, but to
Chicago, Indianapolis, Cleveland, Canada and the entire Midwest.
If LoPatin and his American Raceways, Inc.(ARI), were guilty of anything, it was
trying to do too much, too fast. While Michigan International Speedway has
always been a profitable venture, other ARI speedways were a drain on the
company's budget, and ultimately, ARI went bankrupt. In 1971, the company was
forced to seek protection under bankruptcy laws, allowing the track to maintain
it's racing and testing schedules. In 1972, ARI went into receivership.
THE PENSKE ERA
That's when another visionary - entrepreneur and racer Roger Penske - picked up
on LoPatin's dream.
In 1973 - when the oil crisis and rising gas prices threatened all of racing -
Penske envisioned turning MIS into a premier motorsports facility. After
purchasing the deed to Michigan International Speedway off the Lenawee County
courthouse steps for an estimated $2 million, Penske went right to work to
improve the speedway to his standards. He invested millions of dollars on one
capital improvement project after another with a goal of making Michigan
International Speedway one of the best superspeedways in the world.
During Penske's ownership, the grandstands were expanded from 25,000 to over
125,000 seats, and numerous buildings were added to the property, including
three garages, 28 pit terrace suites, an administration building, two ticket
offices, a maintenance building, a warehouse, a sign shop, an entertainment
shop, a Competition Tire building, and a Motorsports International building.
For over 25 years, Penske invested in Michigan International Speedway, long
after the track's reputation was everything - and more - than he imagined it
could be. He even added two racing-related businesses on the Speedway grounds -
CompTire and Motorsports International. Penske later rebuilt Nazareth Speedway
in Pennsylvania using the same formula s he did for Michigan - resurrecting a
track out of bankruptcy. In 1997, Penske took his speedways and racing-related
businesses public, forming Penske Motorsports, Inc. That same year the company
built California Speedway and purchased 45 percent of Homestead-Miami Speedway.
In 1998 it added North Carolina Speedway to its portfolio.
THE ISC ERA
In July of 1999, Penske Motorsports, Inc. was purchased by the country's leader
of motorsports entertainment - International Speedway Corp. ISC was founded by
another visionary - Bill France - who built the world-famous Daytona
International Speedway and founded NASCAR, the country's most popular racing
series. ISC now owns 12 different motorsports venues, including former Penske
speedways plus Daytona International Speedway, Talladega Superspeedway,
Darlington Speedway, Homestead-Miami Speedway, Richmond International Raceway,
Watkins Glen, Phoenix International Raceway, Martinsville Speedway, Kansas
Speedway and Chicagoland Speedway.
In August of 2000, the Speedway unveiled a new logo and announced it would add
the "International" back to its name, which had been changed to Michigan
Speedway in 1996 to align itself with three other Penske-owned facilities
(California, Nazareth and North Carolina).
Today, Michigan International Speedway is considered one of the country's
premier racing facilities, and yet, it still focuses on constant improvements.
The 2009 season will feature a new sound system and continued improved turn one seating and way-finding signage projects.
MIS is expected to host over half a million fans during its two race weekends
in 2009. The crowds will join live television and radio audiences for five
races featuring the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, NASCAR Nationwide Series, NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series and the ARCA RE/MAX Series.