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On the fast track at Iowa Speedway

Small’s team continues strong tradition at Newton race track

Published: Thursday, Aug. 14, 2014 10:55 a.m. CST • Updated: Thursday, Aug. 14, 2014 11:29 a.m. CST
Caption
(Jocelyn Sheets/Daily News)
Iowa Speedway President Jimmy Small gets the 2014 race season started by addressing fans before driver introductions for the NASCAR Nationwide Series Get to Know Newton 250 in May.
Caption
(Jocelyn Sheets/Daily News)
Jimmy Small’s smile and energy was evident in December when the 28-year-old was introduced as the Iowa Speedway president. Small and NASCAR, which purchased the Speedway in November 2013, assembled a team to drive growth for the race track and partner with Newton to drive growth in the community.
Caption
(Jocelyn Sheets/Daily News)
Iowa Speedway President Jimmy Small holds the microphone for Brad Keselowski, who won the NASCAR Nationwide Series U.S. Cellular 250 at Iowa Speedway on Aug. 2. Small was everywhere during race weekends — mingling with the fans and drivers.

Iowa Speedway has had the tradition and reputation of a strong venue for racing — from the point of view of drivers, fans and the motorsports industry.

Jimmy Small and his team just extended that tradition in his first racing season as Iowa Speedway president. Two weeks removed from the Speedway’s final racing weekend of the 2014 season, Small reflected on three “outstanding” race weekends at the Newton track.

“Iowa Speedway has always been a venue drivers and fans have enjoyed. The attention to detail has always been there,” Small said. “We have a really strong team in place now. We’re proud of the enhancements we were able to bring to our fans this season.”

Small was named Iowa Speedway president a month after the France family announced that NASCAR purchased the race track. In December, the 28-year-old Small took the reins of a race track for the first time in his career with NASCAR.

“No, it wasn’t what I thought it was going to be, but I’m very happy to be at Iowa Speedway. We all strive for perfection which is the right way to go about it. We have to understand to reach it is almost impossible,” Small said.

Timing was a big factor for Small and his staff in 2014. There were three race weekends in the season — May 18, July 11, Aug. 2 — and they came aboard in the middle of December 2013.

“With the short time frame, we accomplished a lot. We were able to pull off something other teams wouldn’t of pulled off. That’s a tribute to what we have going on here at Iowa Speedway,” Small said.

The run-up to opening weekend in May, Small and his staff had the challenge of snow on the ground for a few months, so maintenance projects were slow moving. He said when the snow disappeared it was just a few weeks before racing season was to begin.

“We had a great opener. The Get To Know Newton 250 and all the fan activities we had were tremendous,” Small said.

“We progressed every single weekend we had this season. We exceeded all of our expectations. We’ve made the commitment to our fans to drive value back into that ticket, that purchase, that investment in Iowa Speedway that they make.”

Small pointed to the fan enhancements as what he and his team are most proud of for the 2014 season. He said the racing has always been great at Iowa Speedway and continued to be that, but the Speedway produced some new things for the fan experience.

“We had the midway going, entertainment and had things going on all the time throughout the weekend. We turned Turn 4 into a party area with more character to that area. We’re on to something there and we’ll see further development in that heading into next season,” Small said.

“We owe everything to our fans. We provided something new things for season ticket holders. Our season ticket holders are such a strong base for Iowa Speedway and that is since it opened in 2006. The support has been here from fans and the Newton community.”

Season ticket holders saw upgrades this season. Small said some had the opportunity to watch a race from a suite or the Newton Club. There was a drivers’ meeting in May held in the Newton Club.

“Then we had the drivers’ meeting in the Fan Walk at the August race. I was blown away by the fan response to that and so were the drivers,” Small said. “Garage access was the biggest thing fans enjoyed this season, I think. Who wouldn’t want to be right there and hear teams talk game plan before the race.”

As for the race drivers and feedback from them, Small said Nationwide Series, NASCAR Truck Series drivers are the show at Iowa Speedway. He said drivers love the track and the fans at Iowa.

“You should have seen the energy of these drivers before the last race here. It was unbelievable. They don’t get treated like this at other race tracks because sometimes there’s a bigger show in town,” Small said. “There is a special atmosphere and environment at Iowa Speedway that they don’t have at other tracks.”

The motorsports industry, especially NASCAR and IndyCar, have enjoyed a stable relationship with Iowa Speedway since it opened, Small said. He said those coming here noticed the new enhancements.

Small said Iowa Speedway has the reputation of “having the best volunteers, the best staff, the security and law enforcement, and of course, some of the best race fans.”

Small said since he became Iowa Speedway president he has been welcomed into the community of Newton. He said the Speedway staff has been received well in the community.

“It’s exciting time for us and Newton. I didn’t know what to expect when I got here,” Small said. “I knew NASCAR had been received well here and I was included in all sorts of meeting about the future of Newton.

“We are both driving for growth — the community of Newton and Iowa Speedway. It’s refreshing and energizing to be a part of that here.”

Small came into the job in December with the charge of fan-based initiatives. He said the Speedway staff has implemented some of those in 2014.

“We have a lot of momentum coming out of the season. We’ve taken the past two weeks to review and evaluate the 2014 season.

We were really challenged this year by the timing factor. Now, we have a full year to get ready for 2015,” he said. “We have so much under our belt and so much feedback, which sets us up to do bigger things next year.”

Small said fans at the Iowa State Fair have come by the Speedway’s booth and the biggest question is “what is the schedule for next year?” People are excited about racing at Iowa Speedway, he said.

“But, not just the racing, I believe they love the entire fan experience Iowa Speedway gives people who come for a race. We’ve just continued what was already in place here,” Small said.

“We don’t know the schedule for next year yet. We have to wait for NASCAR and IndyCar to set their schedules. They do it every year to avoid huge conflicts with other sporting events across the country.”

Small said as soon as the schedule is set for Iowa Speedway, it will be released.

Small said being able to provide more opportunities to hold a variety of activities at the Speedway is on their to-do list. He said there is interest in bringing music shows and other types of motorsports to the race track.

“One of our goals it to have additional events at Iowa Speedway, whether it be music shows, other types of driving experiences or camps. There’s a lot that can be done with that size of property,” Small said.

“We want to help bring more activity to the community of Newton. The commitment and support Newton has shown for us is not lost on us. We want to be a greater partner. We’re both on high growth paths.”

Small said he learned a great deal in his first race season at Iowa Speedway.

“I realized I had a lot to learn and some hiccups are just normal business. I know it’s unbeliveable to say, but everything ran smoothly despite the short turn arounds we had. That is a testament to the team we have here at the Speedway,” he said.

“We couldn’t have asked for better support from this community. We’re excited to back at it for 2015.”

Contact Sports Editor Jocelyn Sheets at (641) 792-3121 Ext. 6535 or jsheets@newtondailynews.com.

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