"It is an honor and a privilege to be standing in front of you and accepting the position as the new president at Iowa Speedway."
Jimmy Small paused briefly, his white-knuckle grip on the NASCAR podium at the Iowa Events Center clamping down harder. A moment later, perhaps after fully taking in the gravity of what the 28-year-old Detroit native had just uttered, he continued.
"I've been working my entire career towards this opportunity. Every step I've taken has been an effort to get here. This is truly a dream come true," he said. "Having said that, I feel I am fully prepared and capable to take on the position and the responsibilities therein."
Other NASCAR officials on hand for the announcement Thursday afternoon in Des Moines made it clear: he wouldn't be in Newton if Chairman Brian France wasn't absolutely certain he was the right man for the job.
"One of the first things Brian brought to bear is he didn't want to cut any corners. In his words, he wanted to bring in one of our very best rising stars, someone who could bring real energy, yet at the same time have the relationships with senior management to bring the full resources of NASCAR to bear here at this track," NASCAR Integrated Marketing Communications Managing Director David Higdon said. "It was real clear to everyone in the room who that individual was. That was Jimmy Small."
The grandson of former Detroit Tigers outfielder Jim Small graduated from the University of Notre Dame and immediately went to work for NASCAR at its Daytona, Fla., headquarters coordinating event weekends with tracks, television partners and teams. Over the next six years, he has worked for the sanctioning body in various business-building capacities.
Most recently, he served as senior manager for team marketing services within the NASCAR Industry Services department out of Charlotte, N.C. In that role, he was the business and marketing liaison with teams and drivers in all three national series.
He also had a hand in managing the implementation of NASCAR's five-year Industry Action Plan. The acquisition of Iowa Speedway will play a big roll in accellerating the rollout of NASCAR's plan.
"For us at NASCAR, we determined several years back that we needed to put all of our efforts and focus them around engaging our fan base and doing everything we can to improve the racing product," NASCAR Vice President of Strategic Development Eric Nyquist said. "Part of that is reaching an evolution of our fan experience. That's in part where we saw [purchasing Iowa Speedway] as a very strategic play for us, to step in and take a facility that has performed well to date and work with the city, the state, our partners, the fan base, and our collective industry to take Iowa Speedway to another level."
In the run up to Thursday's announcement, it was made clear Small has a big job ahead of him. In an interview Tuesday wtih NASCAR.com, track designer Rusty Wallace talked about the financial problems the track faced, even with big attendance numbers.
In spite of those financial difficulties, NASCAR Chairman Brian France loved what he saw in Newton.
"Our chairman, Brian France, was very bullish on this decision," Higdon said. "He believes it's the right thing to do for the city, the right thing to do for the state, and certainly the right thing to do for NASCAR."
Some vendors and contractors have not yet been paid for the 2013 season, a situation the will be rectified by NASCAR by the end of the month. But, there will be challenges in the 2014 season and in the years ahead.
Nyquist said he's absolutely certain Small will overcome those challenges.
"Jimmy stepped up and led not one, not two, but three critical strategic initiatives that helped to gain traction for us in critical areas with key demos," he said. "It was through that experience that Jimmy proved himself to be a rising star and a true player long-term in this industry. That's why he's here today."
Small is expected to fit well in Newton. Nyquist, a native of southern Minnesota, noted Small's Midwestern upbringing and strong work ethic.
"He's a down-to-earth person; what you see is what you get," Nyquist said. "He loves racing. He's passionate about this opportunity. He, like myself, is a Midwesterner at heart."
Small has been working with the staff at Iowa Speedway, even before the purchase by NASCAR, and said he's been impressed with their dedication and the hard work they've put in.
"I can't say enough about the individuals at Iowa Speedway. They are tough. They are hard-working. They're intelligent. They care. That's what's most important here, they care," he said. "The bond they share is truly remarkable. It's a bond I truly hope to join and ultimately strengthen."
Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad was unable to attend the event, but offered his thoughts in a prepared statement Higdon read to those in attendance.
"We are excited that NASCAR is investing in Iowa and welcome their commitment to Iowa jobs. The Iowa Speedway has become a major destination for our state and we are pleased to see this dedication and commitment to ensure its continued success."
Newton Mayor Mike Hansen also weighed in on the announcement, stating how excited he is for the future of Iowa Speedway and what it will mean for not just Newton, but all of Central Iowa.
"We look forward to the possibilities at hand for development around the Speedway," he said. "We look forward to attracting new fans to the facility. We are extremely pleased of the selection of Jimmy Small as the next president of the Iowa Speedway."
Hansen called himself "the happiest mayor in Iowa," noting the community couldn't have a better partner than NASCAR moving forward. He said he's had discussions with Small and NASCAR about future projects, but noted development of the land surrounding the speedway property will be a big area of focus for the city.
"I can't tell you, and I haven't been authorized to say what is going on, but I can tell you is that there won't be anybody disappointed," he said. "If you're not a season-ticket holder, then you need to get that taken care of this year.”
Hansen said he met Small about two weeks before the purchase was announced. He said, at the time, he didn't know Small would be the new track president. Hansen said he learned that part around the time the purchase was finalized.
"We have an initiative, in Newton, that we are working on right now to draw young professionals and their families to our community and Jimmy is the first one and I'm pleased to welcome him,” he said.
Jay Byers, Executive Director of the Greater Des Moines Partnership, spoke of the impact NASCAR's purchase of the Iowa Speedway would have on both Central Iowa and the entire state.
"Having NASCAR come into the Central Iowa market is a huge deal," he said. "Iowa Speedway has had huge a huge economic impact for Central Iowa since it opened and we think this new announcement will increase that moving forward.”
Iowa Rep. Dan Kelley said he sees "good things" in the future with the new ownership, calling Thursday "a very exciting day for Newton." Former Iowa Speedway president Stan Clement echoed Kelley's excitement, noting Iowa Speedway was "in great shape for growth."
In his comments to the media in general, Small echoed his predecessor's sentiments.
"This opportunity yields intriguing possibilities. We cannot do it without the support of the fans, Iowans, the community, our partners and our legislators," he said. "We hope you all are as excited as we are to be here today. We're dedicated and committed to being here long-term."
"The fun has just begun."
Additional reporting by Jocelyn Sheets and Ty Rushing. See Friday's Daily News for more information about the announcement and what it may mean for Iowa Speedway.