As the premier sprint car racing venue in North America, Michigan International Speedway (MIS) generates a lot of excitement each and every week. Even diehard NASCAR fans have to admit that watching a sprint race there is something special. With hundreds of thousands of people visiting the track each year, it’s clear that MIS owner Chip Ganassi is doing something right.
The question is: Who owns MIS? And what does the future of one of NASCAR’s most historic tracks look like? Is Chip Ganassi the next step in the evolution of motorsport in America?
The Early Years
In 1963, the Bingham family purchased the 703-acre property for $1.2 million and opened the track as a place for their members to socialize and enjoy the outdoors. A couple of years later, the Binghams took the opportunity to invest more heavily in the facility and renamed it Michigan International Speedway. In 1970, the track’s first grandstands were opened, allowing fans to catch all the action from any spot. This same year, the one-mile clay oval hosted its first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (then called the Super Cup) race, with Richard Petty winning the first of his record-breaking seven championships. Over the next four decades, the track would go on to host the Cup Series a record 14 times, with the most recent being 2018’s Pure Michigan 400. In addition to the Cup Series, MIS also hosted the Xfinity Series a record 18 times, the IndyCar Series (then called the American 500), and the USAC Silver Crown Series.
The Biggest Names In Motorsport
With so many big-name drivers and teams competing there, it’s no wonder why many people are interested in who owns Michigan International Speedway. Let’s take a look at a few of the biggest names in motorsport and their connections to the track:
The most recognizable name connected to MIU is Richard Petty. In addition to being the owner of the track, Petty is also the only active driver to have won all seven of NASCAR’s premier series championships. He is also the only driver to have won the Daytona 500, the Brickyard 400, and the Sylvania 300. With a record 336 wins and 19 championships, it’s not hard to understand why he is considered the gold standard of NASCAR drivers. In 2018, at the age of 77, he is still making appearances at the track and is even a part-time crew member. He hasn’t ruled out returning to full-time driving later in life, so don’t be surprised if you see him at the track for a while yet.
Bob (Bobby) Johnson
Another NASCAR legend in the making is Bob (Bobby) Johnson. Johnson is best known for his long career, which spanned more than 50 years and over 300 races. He raced in the 1950s, winning the first two of his record seven championships, establishing himself as one of NASCAR’s most popular drivers. In addition to his championships, Johnson is also the only driver to have won races in every single decade since the 1950s. One of the most memorable moments of his career was winning the 1972 Indy 500, which was his last race before retiring from full-time driving. He is considered by many to be NASCAR’s greatest ambassador, having appeared in Victory Lane more than 200 times over the course of his career. In 2010, Johnson was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame, and earlier this year, he was voted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame as part of its 2019 class. It is widely believed that Johnson’s family bought a controlling interest in the track in the late 1980s.
Curtis (Curt) LeDuke
While drivers like Petty and Johnson are household names around the world, they aren’t the only well-known names connected to MIU. Curtis (Curt) LeDuke is also a member of NASCAR’s Hall of Fame, having earned the enshrinement for a 16-year career that spanned three decades. LeDuke is best known for competing in the 1971-76 seasons and earning the nickname of the Gucci Cowboy. After winning the 1971 Daytona 500 with Richard Petty, he went on to win 12 races and the 1971 championship. That same year, he also became the first driver to win on a dirt track and an asphalt track in the same season. One of LeDuke’s most memorable races was the 1974 Firecracker 400, an event sponsored by Heineken that drew over 114,000 fans. In addition to his impressive racing career, LeDuke was also the owner of the New England Whalers indoor soccer team from 1995 to 2001 and the Charlotte Hornets NBA team from 2002 to 2011. In 2018, he was elected to serve as the vice chairman of the NASCAR Foundation. (He currently serves as a director for the foundation.)
Danica Patrick is another driver who has been on an incredible run in recent years. After struggling with injuries for much of the first decade of her career, Patrick started to find her form in 2013, winning the pole position for the Indy 500 that year and going on to claim the championship. Since then, she has become an all-time great, winning two NASCAR Cups and earning over $20 million in 2018. She has also scored podium appearances in the Indy 500 and 24 Hours of Daytona. In addition to her on-track success, Patrick is also well-known for being one of the stars of the Netflix series, “Dani’s Party,” which follows her journey from being an IndyCar driver to a NASCAR star. This December will mark the tenth anniversary of her racing career, so there will be many memorable moments to look forward to.
The Present And Future
With the above names synonymous with motorsport, it’s not hard to see why many people are interested in who owns MIU. Even those who aren’t necessarily fans of the above drivers should recognize some of the historic venues that these drivers have driven, including the Daytona International Speedway, where the 2020 Daytona 500 will be held. (The race will take place at the end of this month.) The list of historic tracks that these drivers have graced goes on and on: The Richard Petty Museum, the Michael J. Fox Sports Theater at the Coca-Cola Complex, the Richard Petty Driving Center, and the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon are just a few of the places where you can get a taste of NASCAR’s rich history.
A livestream of the Daytona 500 is beamed around the world, attracting fans from all over, including many from the United States’ abroad vacation spots such as Canada and Mexico. It’s clear that even those who aren’t familiar with NASCAR should recognize the importance that this historic 500-mile race holds not just in Floridian but in motorsport as a whole.
MIS owner Chip Ganassi’s vision is to see this historic track continue to grow and prosper, bringing in more revenue and creating more jobs. To that end, he has invested heavily in the infrastructure of the track, implementing POS (point of sale) technology, enhancing the Fan Experience, and building a state-of-the-art motorsport complex. The above-listed names are part of the reason why MIS was chosen as the host track for the 2020 NASCAR Grand Prix. The race, which is the first in the series’ 41st annual running, will mark the start of the season for both the drivers and teams. With over 30,000 seats available, it’s clear that the interest in this year’s race is much higher than in previous years. (The 2021 NASCAR Grand Prix was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.)
The expansion of the track to a 1.25 mile oval in 1994 created a more intimate atmosphere for the fans, as well as allowing for more passing. One of the most famous incidents at the track came in 2007, when Casey Mears, Jr. broke a bone in his leg after being shoved into the wall by Joey Logano. Mears was parading around the track in a walking boot during the following weekend’s card, an image that was carried around the world via social media. Perhaps the greatest example of the track’s growth is the fact that it now boasts two grandstands, allowing for a larger spectator presence and further enhancing the Fan Experience. (One of the grandstands has already been torn down, and a third will be torn down this year.)
It’s clear that without a doubt, Richard Petty is the face of Michigan International Speedway. With his amazing body of work over the years, it’s no surprise that fans and drivers alike have held him in such high regard. There isn’t a driver alive who doesn’t have something wonderful to say about Richard Petty, and it wouldn’t be a massive understatement to say that without him, there wouldn’t be a NASCAR in the first place.