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Michigan International Speedway History

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Michigan International Speedway ¿ home of the state¿s largest single-day, paid-admission sporting events since 1992 ¿ is a track rich in racing tradition. The track is nestled on more than 1,200 acres in the Irish Hills of southeastern Michigan. Groundbreaking took place on September 28, 1967. More than 2.5 million yards of dirt were moved to form the D-shaped oval. Charles Moneypenny, who had designed the 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway, designed the Michigan oval. The original layout included infield and exterior roads, which could be configured into a 3-mile or two 1.9-mile 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 million to $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 car event posted a purse second at the time only to the Indianapolis 500. Ronnie Bucknum collected $20,088 as the first driver to roll into Winner¿s Circle. 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 the final lap, they touched twice entering turn one, and Yarbrough brushed the wall. They drafted down the back straight, and coming out of the final turn, Yarbrough spun and crashed just 300 yards from the finish line. Since then, MIS has hosted a number of historic races and many legendary drivers, including Richard Petty, Mark Donohue, A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, Parnelli Jones, Gordon Johncock, Emerson Fittipaldi, Al Unser, Bobby Allison, Dale Earnhardt, Buddy Baker, Bruce McLaren, Neil Bonnett, Davey Allison, and Rick Mears have all celebrated victories in Winner¿s Circle at Michigan International Speedway. 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 Capital of the World, but to Chicago, Indianapolis, Cleveland, Canada and the entire Midwest. If LoPatin and his American Raceways, Inc., 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 its racing and testing schedules. In 1972, American Raceways, Inc. 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 seats to over 125,000, added several buildings to the property, including three garages, 26 pit terrace suites, the administration building, two ticket offices, a maintenance building, Motorsports International (now Americrown) and CompTire buildings and warehouses, a sign shop and entertainment shop. Other improvements over the years include building timing and scoring stands, corporate suites, chalets, pavilions, concession stands, restrooms, first aid stations, an infield hospital, pedestrian bridges, roadways, offices, maintenance facilities and garages. Approximately 400 acres have been purchased for additional free parking. 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. Penske later rebuilt Nazareth Speedway in Pennsylvania using the same formula as 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. The company built California Speedway and purchased 45 percent of Miami-Homestead Speedway in 1997, and in 1998, added North Carolina Speedway to its portfolio.

The ISC Era

In July of 1999, PMI merged with the country¿s leading force in motorsports ¿ 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, the four former Penske Speedways plus Daytona International Speedway, Talladega Superspeedway, Darlington Speedway, Homestead Miami Speedway, Watkins Glen, Phoenix International Raceway, Kansas Speedway and Chicagoland Speedway. The company has plans to build two more speedways in Denver and New York. 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 the three other Penske-owned facilities (California, Nazareth and North Carolina). The new logo was designed by ISC Creative Supervisor Jerry Stanley. Today, Michigan International Speedway is considered one of the country¿s premier racing facilities, and yet, it still focuses on constant improvements. In 2000, a new 10,800-plus seat grandstand was built in turn three, providing a magnificent view of the entire Speedway and surrounding Irish Hills. The track was resurfaced in 1977, again in 1986, and again in the spring of 1995. During the last resurfacing, MIS became the first track to use a polymer-enhanced asphalt especially formulated for high-banked racing ¿ and harsh Michigan winters. Previous surfaces were milled off and used to pave access roads leading to parking areas.

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