Friday, June 13, 2008

NASCAR Basics: The Tracks: Michigan

Charles Moneypenny put pen to paper and set his sights on designing a racetrack for the Irish Hills of southeastern Michigan. The designer of the Daytona International Speedway came up with a two-mile D-shaped oval. Racing legend Stirling Moss added interior and exterior roads that could be combined to form road courses, but they haven't been used in a race since 1984.

Ground was broken for Michigan International Speedway near Brooklyn in September of 1967 and 2.5 million yards of it was pushed around to form the track. The first race, a 250-mile Indy-style race, took place in October of 1968. NASCAR came to town the next year, holding their first race at MIS on June 15, 1969. Cale Yarborough and LeeRoy Yarbrough battled door-to-door over much of the final 150 laps, but LeeRoy spun out some 300 yards from the finish line, handing the victory to Cale.

A Detroit-area land developer, Lawrence H. LoPatin, was the visionary behind Michigan International Speedway. He spent an estimated $4-6 million to build the track. The location was chosen for its proximity to Detroit and several other cities in the upper Midwest. LoPatin went on to start American Raceways, Inc. and to buy or build other tracks around the country. While MIS has always been profitable, the other ARI tracks drained the company's budget, eventually forcing the company to file for bankruptcy protection in 1971. ARI went into receivership in 1972.

In 1973, in an auction on the Lenawee County courthouse steps, Roger Penske purchased the track for $2 million. He spent millions of dollars on one improvement after another, including increasing the grandstands from 25,000 to 125,000 seats, adding several modern buildings to the property, and adding two racing-related businesses, CompTire and Motorsports International to the speedway grounds. In 1997, Penske took his speedway and racing businesses public, forming Penske Motorsports, Inc. In July of 1999, Penske Motorsports, Inc. was purchased by Bill France's International Speedway Corp.

Michigan International Speedway is similar to a couple of other tracks. It is a "sister track" of Texas World Speedway and Fontana, California's Auto Club Speedway was based on the MIS design. Michigan has a little more banking all the way around -- 18° in the turns, 12° in the frontstretch and 5° in the backstretch compared to 14°, 11° and 3° at Fontana. Michigan also has a longer frontstretch, but Fontana has a longer backstretch.

High speeds are the norm at MIS. Ryan Newman holds the track qualifying record -- 194.232 mph set in June of 2005. Jeff Gordon is the all-time money winner with 19 Top 10's, 15 Top 5's and two wins in thirty starts. Bill Elliott is the active driver with the most wins at MIS with seven. The drivers that usually do well at Auto Club Speedway are also the top finishers at Michigan: Carl Edwards has an average finish of 7.29 and Matt Kenseth, 9.71.

Michigan International Speedway hosts two Sprint Cup races per year, the LifeLock 400 in June and the 3M Performance 400 in August.

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NASCAR Basics: The Tracks: Master List

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