ALMS, Round 10 - Bell Isle, Detroit
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The Auto Racing Promoter’s Bible – what a difference a week makes

How High the Moon?

Wow!  The Detroit Grand Prix.  The best event in the history of American Le Mans

Series.  Period.

Roger Penske has created the standard that all other racing events will be measured

against; and with all things Penske, the bar is set high.  When evaluating the weekend from every angle, from the smallest to the largest detail, it is not unreasonable to say, this was the first and only “world class” event in ALMS history.  And hopefully not the last; astute promoters will closely scrutinize the Detroit model and incorporate the missing pieces into their puzzles (some events need a few tiny pieces, others have massive holes).  What made this event so superior you ask?  Plenty.

Detroit Spinners

The local politicians gave the event their blessing and then got the hell out of the way.

As a result, the private sector had very little red tape to cut through and things got done in hurry. For example, Belle Isle has 600,000 sq. feet of new concentrate.  Yes it is part of the paddock during the race weekend, but for the balance of the year it can be used for a multiple of purposes including corporate and civic events.  The island has a new permanent playground for kids, new landscaping and a guarantee of further improvements over the next 5 years.

The area business community jumped on board in a very big way.  Both the ALMS and

IRL races had presenting sponsors (Bosch and Firestone), the corporate hospitality suites were sold out and advertising was displayed throughout the track.  In addition, there was a massive amount of assistance on hand; from the Cisco folks in the media center making sure the 4 T-1 lines were always running, to the numerous folks wearing the AAA yellow volunteer shirts who were polite and exceptionally well trained.

The Captain

The two most important factors contributing to the success of this enterprise are

directly connected – they are “the Penske Team” and Roger Penske himself.  Penske is known as “The Captain,” and like any great leader knows one of the keys to success is to surround yourself with the best and brightest people.  Penske has these folks in droves and allows them the autonomy to carry out his vision.  He is also a hands on leader and pays attention to every detail of the event.  The tiniest details add up in a hurry to make any event either memorable or forgettable.  Virtually everything was buttoned up – from a very common sense approach to credentials – 700 members of the media (and no “friends of” wankers with cell phone cameras and a photo credential) including a huge turn out of local TV and radio guys doing live reports each day.  An enlightened approach to the actual credentials themselves (green credentials mean all-access for example), plenty of water and food in the media center (that would be breakfast, lunch, dinner – the same approach any normal sporting event – football game, golf tournament or Olympics has). Add to this lockers, designated deadline media areas, photographers, pr and interview areas. An elevated, clean and organized hospitality area directly behind the paddock and a fan zone that was centrally located giving sponsors like GM plenty of exposure, spread out just enough for the fans to enjoy the various displays and activities.  Well designed, understated official products (yes, these folks understand the demographic make up of the fans and realize if they wanted 1970’s style T-shirts they would either be at Wal-Mart and at the state fair). A properly organized parking and shuttle system and plenty of bleachers for fans to enjoy the key parts of the circuit and view the scenery.  The paddock was buttoned up as well, with the IRL and ALMS trucks across from one other.  Having no support races was a stroke of genius, balancing plenty of track time with just enough down time for fans to walk through the paddock and the grounds and soak up the entire event.  The “less is more” line of thinking actually works.

The Main Man

The last and most important piece of this puzzle is Roger Penske.   He has only one

standard – excellence.  When other promoters are constantly looking at ways to save a penny here or a dollar there; Penske always is willing to spend the extra dollars (sometimes thousands) to make sure things are done right….the first time.  You never hear the line “we will fix it by next year’s race.”  Problems are solved before most people realize they were ever there. Penske was at Belle Isle each and every day leading up to the event motivating his troops and making sure every last detail was in place.  On Wednesday event of race week a thunderstorm bore down on Belle Isle with 60 miles per hour wind gusts.  The hospitality village was already set up, but Penske noticed after the storm a few of the plants outside each tent had blown over and had sustained minor damage on a few of the limbs.  Penske ordered the plants removed and replaced so the patrons would not see anything less than perfection.  Roger Penske is not the kind of businessman who drives around in a golf cart and gives things a quick once over glance.  He is involved in every aspect of the event.  He understands better than most this attention pays long term dividends.  We can expect the 2008 event (the 2nd annual and 1st anniversary – the Penske folks know the difference) to be even bigger and better; although it is hard to imagine how.

Penske Perfect

 The 2007 Detroit Grand Prix was world class in every sense of the phrase.  To

hundreds of volunteers, the greater Detroit business community, the members of the Penske organization and to Roger Penske – a  tremendous round of applause  and an enormous amount of gratitude and appreciation for your vision, hard work and execution.  The Detroit Grand Prix was perfect.  Penske Perfect.

Richard Dole
September, 2007

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