Michigan International Speedway Starts 50th Anniversary Season





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By Seth Kinker, skinker@thesuntimesnews.com

A southeast Michigan treasure, the Michigan International Speedway (MIS) will be turning 50 this year and marking the milestone anniversary with a season-long celebration.



“The track has a long history and we are planning a season-long celebration to commemorate all the historic moments and great drivers,” MIS track President Rick Brenner said. “Fans will want to stay tuned as we continue to rollout different highlights to showcase the history of our sport and the automobile in Michigan.”

Lawrence H. LoPatin, a Detroit-area land developer built the speedway at an estimated cost of $4-6 million. The first official race took place on October 13, 1968 with a 250-mile Indy-style competition with a purse second at the time only to the Indianapolis 500. The winner, Ronnie Bucknum, collected $20,088 as the first driver to take the checkered flag.

According to MIS history, the first NASCAR winner was Cale Yarborough 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.

Over the years MIS has become the place to be to witness amazing races with 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.

MIS has honored these drivers and all of its past champions in the Walk of Champions area in the AAA Motorsports Fan Plaza.

LoPatin’s pursuits were in an era well ahead of his time – before motorsports became part of mainstream America. LoPatin selected the location for its proximity Detroit – the Motor City, Chicago, Indianapolis, Cleveland, Canada and the entire Midwest.

LoPatin formed American Raceways, Inc.(ARI), and the vision grew quickly. While Michigan International Speedway was and is a profitable endeavor, other ARI speedways didn’t do so well and ultimately, ARI went bankrupt.

That’s when Roger Penske, another avid race fan, took the wheel.

Then the oil crisis and rising gas prices of the 70s threatened all of racing – Penske decided to turn MIS into a premier motorsports facility. He  After purchasing the MIS property Penske invested millions to improve the speedway.

According to MIS history, in July of 1999, Penske Motorsports, Inc. was purchased by the country’s leader of motorsports entertainment – International Speedway Corp. ISC was founded by 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.

Today, Michigan International Speedway is considered one of the country’s premier racing facilities, and yet, it still focuses on constant improvements.

The MIS website will post videos and photos that celebrate the history of the track at www.mispeedway.com/50years and a special car and memorabilia display will be created to feature the history of racing among many other planned events throughout the season.

A special logo will be used for 2018, the gold M in the center pays homage to the original logo, a change from the green. The trees and sun near the bottom pay homage to the current logo while the circle incorporate the design of the original logo.

NASCAR returned to MIS for the first time in 2018 earlier this month with the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series FireKeepers Casino 400.

In a rain shortened 133-lap race, Clint Bowyer battled back late, with Bowyer’s crew chief, Mike Bugarewicz, made the call to only change two tries to get out of pit road first. Kevin Harvick remained ahead of Bowyer when the green flag flew but Bowyer battled back to take the lead in turn three and claim his first career victory at MIS.

On Aug. 10 -12 the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series comes to MIS.

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Seth Kinker

Reporter/Digital Media for The Sun Times News

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