The big, two-mile speedway, with its wide surface, sweeping turns and 18-degree banking, off U.S. 12 just south of the village of Brooklyn is sitting pretty, as spring makes a plodding attempt to dispel a winter’s cold.
Michigan International Speedway is 50 years old.
The roar of high-performance engines will echo around “the fastest track in NASCAR” Wednesday, when Brad Keselowski, Austin Dillon, Aric Almirola, Martin Truex Jr. and Alex Bowman, show up in their racing Fusions, Camaros and a Camry to participate in a NASCAR Cup Series Goodyear tire test.
Some vintage race cars that will be part of a special 50th anniversary display, including the NASCAR Cup, IndyCar and International Race of Champions (IROC) series, will sit in the paddock area, heralding a season-long celebration of the track.
“To have the good fortune of being part of this fabulous team at MIS and this awesome sport and this community here in Michigan, and be part of history, the 50th year, for all of us, it’s just a privilege to be part of it, and we look forward to sharing it with our fans, and those that choose to come out in June and August,” said Rick Brenner, the track president.
Lawrence LoPatin, a real estate developer in Metro Detroit built the track for an estimated $4 million to $6 million, according to the official history.
The track opened, with 25,000 seats, for the first race, Sunday, October 13, 1968.
Ronnie Bucknam won the United States Auto Club (USAC) Michigan Inaugural 250, in an IndyCar race car of the day. The great Mario Andretti finished second, after taking the pole with a speed of 183.720 mph.
The field also included A.J. Foyt, Bobby and Al Unser and Johnny Rutherford.
Roger Penske bought the track for an estimated $2 million, in 1972, and the capacity grew to 125,000 over the years.
The International Speedway Corporation bought out Penske in 1999.
This year’s races:
■LTI Printing 250, NASCAR Xfinity Series, June 9
■ FireKeepers Casino 400, NASCAR Cup Series, June 10
■ Corrigan Oil 200, NASCAR Truck Series, Aug. 11
■ Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Race, Aug. 12
MIS officials expect to name a race sponsor for the August cup race in the coming weeks.
Big events scheduled to celebrate the 50th anniversary include a museum-like display and a charity dinner featuring a discussion panel with some notables of motor sport.
“If you love cars, if you love Michigan, if you love NASCAR, if you love IndyCar there’s going to be one-of-kind display of cars, memorabilia and auto racing history that goes all through Michigan International Speedway and the sport,” Brenner said.
“That will be on Fan Plaza.
“Then on Saturday night (June 9) the folks at Consumers Energy and we got together and partnered up with Henry Ford Allegiance Hospital, here in Jackson, and the MIS Cares foundation to have a charity dinner,” he said.
Guests will include guests like Rusty Wallace, the 1989 NASCAR Cup champion; Leonard Wood, a crew chief, engine builder and founder of Wood Brothers Racing; and Dale Inman, a crew chief for Richard Petty and his race team for three decades.
“We’ll have a Q&A, and just the opportunity to walk around and look at this display in a private setting, with some nice food,” Brenner said. “It’s going to be a unique opportunity.”
Proceeds will benefit the hospital and MIS Cares.
Also, this season, a new bar and food area on Fan Plaza will be accessible without an admission ticket, and musical entertainment, there, is free, Brenner said.
The Turn One Resort, a high-end camping area with a private game room and entrance, features views of the front stretch and pit row, and free access to an all-you-can-eat on racing Sundays.
“We put countertops in front of the seats, so when you’re sitting in your seat you’ve got your own table,” Brenner said. “And right behind the grandstand is a two-hour, all-you-can-eat buffet.
“And you’re in the corner of the track where the cars are going the fastest.”