Detroit— For Bud Denker the Chevrolet Belle Isle Grand Prix isn't just about the oil, the speed and the cars.
It is about rebuilding Belle Isle, the site of the annual race, and being a part of the rebirth of downtown Detroit. Denker, event chairman of the Grand Prix, held a panel discussion with drivers Juan Pablo Montoya and Josef Newgarden at the North American International Auto Show Friday at Cobo Center to talk racing and the future of the race to auto fans.
Prior to the talk Denker announced that race organizers spent $4 million to pave more than a mile of the race circuit that should "last for years."
The race has pumped $13 million of improvements into Belle Isle since 2006 and is estimated to add $45-$47 million into the local economy for the weekend of races to be run May 29-31.
Denker said the goal is to never lose the race again, which Detroit has a couple times over the years, the last time from 2009-11.
"When racing left, it was a void we did not like," Denker said. "We are the Motor City. We have NASCAR in the Irish Hills but that is a long way away. To have this in Detroit is important."
Denker and race organizers have been able to add more improvements since the state took over Belle Isle from the city of Detroit. That includes a new $250,000 sewage system that should eliminate standing water near the awards stands. Denker said the next move is to add new pavilions and grills for families to use year-round.
"Belle Isle was not a good place," Denker said. "It was really rotted out and needed a lot of help."
Newgarden, who took a drive around Belle Isle to take a look at the track layout and test the new pavement, gave it a thumbs up. He said drivers are mostly concerned with safety and trying to put on a good show for fans. But Newgarden also understands the big picture of improving Belle Isle and the racetrack.
"We look at it differently when you think about the race," Newgarden said. "It does bring awareness to the island. It has brought about great improvements now that it is state-operated. It is a safer place and well-maintained."
Newgarden has yet to win a race for Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing. He's raced at Belle Isle, finishing 15th, seventh and 17th.
"We are racers," he said. "We just want to race and hopefully we put on a good show for all the fans. As Indy drivers that is the only reason we come to town is because we are racers and we want to share racing with everybody."
Chevrolet Dual in Detroit
When: May 29-31
Where: Detroit's Belle Isle
What: Detroit will host the Verizon IndyCar doubleheader on Belle Isle on Saturday and Sunday of the race weekend. The weekend will conclude on Sunday with the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix.
Tickets: Can be purchased by visiting DetroitGP.com or by calling 866-464-PRIX. Prices begin at $35 for general admission.