IndyCar Vice President of Promoter Relations Michael Montri
PIT PASS INDY PRESENTED BY PENSKE TRUCK RENTAL– SEASON 3, EPISODE 46 – IndyCar Vice President of Promoter Relations Michael Montri
November 14, 2023
Show host Bruce Martin has another great interview for Pit Pass Indy Presented by Penske Truck Rental.
Martin has an in-depth interview with IndyCar Vice President of Promoter Relations Michael Montri. In addition to his important role dealing with all promoters in IndyCar, Montri is also the President of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix and President of the Hy-Vee IndyCar Race Weekend at Iowa Speedway.
One of Montri’s main duties is negotiating the schedule for the NTT IndyCar Series.
Montri talks to Martin about these and other topics in this exclusive Pit Pass Indy Presented by Penske Truck Rental interview.
For more INDYCAR coverage, follow Bruce Martin at Twitter at @BruceMartin_500
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This is Roger Penske, and you're listening to Pit Pass Indy, sponsored by Penske Truck Rental.
IndyCar fans, it's time to start your engines. Welcome to Pit Pass Indy, a production of Evergreen Podcasts. I'm your host Bruce Martin, a journalist who regularly covers the NTT IndyCar series. Our goal at Pit Pass Indy is to give racing fans an insider's view of the exciting world of the NTT IndyCar series in a fast-paced podcast featuring interviews with the biggest names in the sport.
I bring nearly 40 years of experience covering IndyCar and NASCAR, working for such media brands as nbcsports.com, si.com, ESPN Sports Ticker, Sports Illustrated, Autoweek, and Speed Sport. So, let's drop the green flag on this episode of Pit Pass Indy.
Welcome to this week's edition of Pit Pass Indy, presented by Penske Truck Rental. We want to congratulate IndyCar and Indianapolis Motor Speedway owner Roger Penske for another big accomplishment.
On Sunday, November 5th, Team Penske Driver Ryan Blaney won the NASCAR Cup Series Championship at Phoenix Raceway by finishing second to race winner Ross Chastain of Trackhouse. Blaney was the highest finishing driver out of NASCAR's Championship four.
It was the first time in Team Penske history that it has won the NASCAR Cup Series Championship in back-to-back seasons.
Joey Logano won his second NASCAR Cup Championship for Team Penske in 2022. It was also the team's fourth NASCAR Cup Series Championship.
Brad Keselowski won the team's first in 2012, and Logano won the first of his two in 2018. It is also only the second time in Team Penske history that it won the Indianapolis 500 and the NASCAR Cup Series Championship in the same season.
The first time that happened was in 2018 when Will Power won the Indianapolis 500 and Logano won the NASCAR Cup Series Championship.
This year, Josef Newgarden won the 107th Indianapolis 500 on May 28th, and Blaney is the new champion of the NASCAR Cup Series.
With this latest championship, Team Penske has extended its record to 44 major auto racing championships since the team began as Penske racing in 1966. That includes a record 19 wins in the Indianapolis 500.
Pit Pass Indy would like to congratulate team owner Roger Penske, as well as everyone at Team Penske and the Penske Corporation for this outstanding accomplishment.
Our guest on today's Pit Pass Indy is a key member of the Penske Corporation. It's Michael Montri, IndyCar Vice President of Promoter Relations. Montri also serves as the president of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix, and the president of the Hy-Vee IndyCar race weekend at Iowa Speedway.
Among Montri's many duties is putting together the NTT IndyCar series schedule and working with each promoter in the series. I had a chance to talk to Montri about a variety of topics in this exclusive Pit Pass Indy interview.
Joining us now on Pit Pass Indy, presented by Penske Truck Rental is Michael Montri, the Vice President Promoter Relations for IndyCar. Michael, thank you for joining us today.
No problem, Bruce. Thanks for having me on.
One of the things that you do of your many duties that you do for IndyCar, you're also the president of the Detroit Grand Prix, and a week or two ago, the economic survey came out, looks like it had a really good economic impact on the greater Detroit area, $104 million in total spending.
Did those figures surprise you or is that about what you expected by moving the event to downtown Detroit after so long being at Belle Isle?
Well, we knew that moving it downtown was going to have a huge positive impact on the local economy. People would come down and they would spend more time at the event. They would park downtown and frequent our bars and restaurants and hotels downtown.
So, we knew that was going to go up, but I was pleasantly surprised, I guess on the level that it increased, Bruce. We projected based on historical records from our Belle Isle races, we projected just under 80 million and it ended up just over 100. So, certainly a nice bump there and a great addition to downtown the event scene.
And also by moving it back to downtown Detroit in the heart of the business district, didn't it also really create more of an opportunity for the community to really take part in the event?
No doubt. I mean, that was one of our main pillars and goals when we moved it back downtown. We wanted everybody in the community to have a chance to come. We wanted the people that their parents brought them to — when they brought them to the race back in the 80s and 90s when it was downtown, we wanted them to bring their kids and just kind of keep that generational feel alive.
And there's no doubt once we went out into the community and started talking to the people, the neighborhoods, and the businesses that this event is woven into the fabric of Detroit, particularly this downtown version. So, it was great to get it back downtown where it was born and a huge success. So, certainly happy.
It's also broken down into the 2023 Grand Prix measured $64.1 million and 33.1 million originating from sources outside of the Greater Detroit Tri-County area. If you could explain the differences between those two figures.
Yeah, so basically there's two different numbers that are key. Number one is that $104 million economic spend. There's an economic metric multiplier, basically on how many times that same dollar will be spent across the region. So, that's what that number is.
There's a whole nother number that's economic impact, and that's true economic impact. And what that means is if this event wasn't present in the city, what would the city not garner? And that's the number, it's $36 million that this event brought specifically to the city and the Tri-County area that wouldn't have been spent without this event.
So, the 104 number is when you take all into effect, every dollar spent. And then the economic impact is okay, if you take this event away, what does not come through Detroit and the Tri-County area, and that's the $36 million.
What are some of the plans that you have for 2024 to maybe increase that economic impact even more?
Well, I think what will happen is people have realized what this event is downtown, and I think people will now plan in advance. They'll stay longer downtown. They'll come down and stay in a hotel. They will know their way around; they'll know where their favorite bar or restaurant is in relation to the venue.
What was amazing was we thought a bunch of people would park in our civic center at Huntington Place that is right adjacent to the track and walk in. And really no one took advantage of that. I think when people now see the proximity of that venue to our venue, I think they will start to park there.
So, I think people now, once we've had it for a year and now, we've had it for a year, they'll figure out where to go. And because of that, they'll spend more time, they'll be more relaxed, they'll spend more money and more hotel rooms. So, I do think it will increase in year two.
Anytime you have a major event in a downtown area, it'll affect businesses mostly positive. Some it may prevent them from being able to get the type of traffic that they need for them to do. What's some of the reaction that you got from particular businesses on both sides?
Well, two things. Number one, we have the luxury in Detroit of having a really close-knit community on the business side. And we went out to all of them and said, “Hey, here's the layout of the track. Here's where the actual racetrack will be and here's what we think we can do to help you take advantage of this event rather than have it be a negative on your business.”
And we had what we call a small business straightaway, where we invited businesses from all over the geographic footprint of Detroit down to the event. We set up a farmer's market style tent for them. They came in and these are businesses that would've never had exposure to anybody that was in the downtown Detroit core, downtown Detroit area for our event.
And we brought them in, and they got exposed to people and fans that they would've never been exposed to. That was a huge success. The other thing is that the way we designed the track, we had a international border crossing right in the middle of our track that remained open.
So, the back-and-forth traffic to Canada stayed open. There was no businesses that got completely cut off from any of our venue, any of the track. So, huge plus on that side for sure.
What about some of the businesses that were actually surprised at how well they did over the weekend?
Well, we had a lot of meetings leading up to, and there were some concerns obviously, and we were kind of the consultants to say, “Okay, here's how we can help you take advantage of this opportunity.”
And a couple of those were restaurants that were right in the middle of the footprint, right in the middle of the Renaissance Center. And they now that they've seen it know how to take advantage of next year. So, they were very pleasantly surprised in how it went down this year. And I think they'll be able to take much bigger advantage of it in year two, for sure.
After all the years that you've spent out at Belle Isle, over 30 years the event was held out there and it really helped improve the state park. It helped improve the conservatories that you guys were involved with. You got the fountain working again. To be able now to deal with it on a city street basis creates an entirely different paradigm. And how do you approach that?
Well, we had three different stakeholders, really as opposed to one stakeholder on Belle Isle or two, and three different entities own the racetrack. So, the state owns part of the roads that the racetrack is on. The city owns part of the roads, and General Motors actually owns part of the roads.
So, we had to work really closely together with all three of those entities to make sure that it all came off how it should have, huge success there. We're very happy on how we all work together.
But in addition to that, you mentioned all the charitable functions and things that we were able to accomplish on Belle Isle, over almost $20 million that we put into Belle Isle to the state park there, or the city park to make it up and get it up and running again with the help of the DNR and our partners.
When we moved downtown, we kept that mentality, and we raised over a million dollars on Friday night at our charity gala for five distinct charities downtown. And we'll continue to do that year over year and contribute to the community and different charities as part of this event. That's part of our event.
We are a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. We are not in this to make money. We're in this for the betterment of the city and the community.
Because of the footprint of the actual race course, you're rather limited as to some of the things you can do to maybe change the course a little bit or even put up more grandstands. What are some of the things that you would like to be able to do to maybe improve the spectator viewing areas?
Yeah, you're right. I mean, with being right in the downtown, there are only a limited number of areas we can put grandstands. And in addition to that, there's only a limited amount of time that we have to set up and tear down.
But we're making a couple of our grandstands larger from last year, especially the ones down in turn three, which is the hairpin turn, which is definitely where all the action is and where a lot of our fan interactive displays are and things like that.
So, we're making that grandstand bigger. We're moving our club, our turn three club area right up to the track. Last year it was behind the track in kind of a separate hospitality area. This year we're moving it right on the track in turn three. So, that'll be an enhancement that I think our fans and guests will enjoy.
And then, grandstand eight, that's down right next to turn eight. We're going to combine those two grands. We had two grandstands there last year. We're going to combine them and make them a little bit bigger, so certainly we'll continue to enhance that.
I would say what we were probably the most surprised about last year was the stadium feel that you had in that double-sided Blue Cross Blue Shield pit lane. And this year we're going to try to really play up the fact that this pit lane is so unique, first of all, but also it really lends itself to a kind of a stadium atmosphere where you can see every pit stop right in front of you, whether you're in the suites, whether you're in one of the grandstands that are across the way.
Or this year we're actually going to sell spaces in our parking decks that surround the pit lane as well, where you can tailgate or go onto the rooftop and enjoy the views from there. So, we're going to really play up that stadium feel and stadium atmosphere around that double-sided pit lane.
One thing that you cannot probably put a price on though, is the buzz factor and the fact by moving it right there with GM headquarters in the shadows of Chevrolet's offices and downtown Detroit, the Renaissance Center, that's probably something that money can't buy, but it really adds to the buzz of the event.
You're absolutely right. First of all, the fact that we're racing around the headquarters of General Motors, who happens to be our title sponsor of the event, is just something that you don't see everywhere. The fact that we're racing right through the middle of downtown, the busiest corridor in downtown Detroit, it's something you can't do in every city.
And the fact that this course is also right next to Detroit Riverwalk rated the number one riverwalk in the entire country right on the Detroit River lends it a backdrop that you just don't get everywhere.
So, I think the venue is absolutely unique. I think the buzz factor, like you said, will continue to be strong in year two. And I think, in year two, we'll really start to get out onto the water a little bit and maybe activate some things out the water. We had some small displays on the water last year, but we'd really like to play up the river as well.
We'll be right back to Pit Pass Indy after this short break.
Hey everybody, this is Josef Newgarden, winner of the 107th Indianapolis 500, and you're listening to Pit Pass Indy, presented by Penske Truck Rental.
Welcome back to Pit Pass Indy, presented by Penske Truck Rental. Here's the second part of my interview with IndyCar Vice President of Promoter Relations, Michael Montri for Pit Pass Indy.
In addition to being president of the Detroit Grand Prix, you're also the president of the Hy-Vee IndyCar race weekend at Iowa. Last year, you probably took a couple of days off before you and your team departed to Newton, Iowa to help get that Iowa Speedway ready for the big race weekend that happens in July.
Going to be a little bit of a difference though in 2024 because NASCAR is going to have a NASCAR Cup Series race weekend at Iowa in June. How much is that going to affect your team's ability to get the facility ready for what you need to have it for your race in July?
Well, honestly, I think it'll help. I mean, if you think about it, that racetrack had kind of, I don't want to say gone dormant because they've had one event there every year at least, I think it was ARCA a couple times.
But we really came in and had to do a lot of work to get that thing, that facility up and ready to go. With NASCAR being a month or so before us, I think that the facility will certainly be ready to go. They will have already had a major event there.
So, I think from that perspective, it will help. We're working very closely as you can imagine with NASCAR and Hy-Vee on what we can do around the NASCAR event weekend, what Hy-Vee can do around the NASCAR event weekend, what our temporary suites will look like for the NASCAR weekend, all the things.
So, it's definitely been a positive, that's such a great facility and a great state and they have great fans there. So, anything that's going to enhance the facility bring major Motorsports back to Iowa, I think is a great thing.
There are only a couple places even in, in the history of the sport that have had both IndyCar and NASCAR in the same season. Indianapolis is one of them, obviously Iowa's another, and I don't think right now there's another one, Texas, of course historically, but not in 24.
So, it's a big deal. Yeah, we're really happy to be a part of it. That's such a great event there that we've been able to create with the help of Hy-Vee and NASCAR through their ownership of the Iowa Speedway. So, looking forward to it.
How much construction time do you need to get all the temporary suites and grandstand constructed in time for the Hy-Vee IndyCar race weekend at Iowa Speedway?
Well, it depends on the size, and we vary the size a little bit each year, it seems to get a little bigger each year. This year the turn one suites will be constructed prior to the NASCAR race. So, those will be able to be utilized during the NASCAR race. The turn four suites, the structure there will go up after the NASCAR race, but before the IndyCar race.
So, there's no way we could get all of those structures up after the NASCAR race and before the IndyCar race, but if we split them, turn one is already up, turn four will go up afterward, that'll be the way we'll go about it.
What about the pit suites?
So, the pit suites that we're in behind the pits last year will be the ones in turn four. If we do anything on pit lane, it will be much reduced, I believe. We're still talking through the details on that, but it'll be much reduced from what we had last year.
Is there a reason why you're moving the location?
Moving the location of the pit suites?
That pit suite was the first time it was ever used last year. First time it was ever constructed was inside pit lane. And those are the suites that were built specifically for the Formula One race in Las Vegas. So, they built them in Iowa prior to taking them to Vegas. Quite frankly, it's a nicer structure, and so we want that in turn one, that's the reasoning.
Continuing the buzz at Iowa. I talked to some people at Hy-Vee recently, and they're putting together four more big acts, just as you've had in the past on the entertainment side. How far away are we from knowing who those four acts will be?
I think we're getting closer. I think we're getting closer. We obviously have Hy-Vee carries the brunt of that operationally, but we certainly keep in touch and talk through it, and I think we're getting close for sure.
I don't have any great updates for you to be honest, but we'll keep you posted. But I think as far as the buzz goes, Bruce, the fact that we finally have a Saturday night race is going to be huge. We're really excited for the night race to come, Saturday night under the lights, the way it should be, quite frankly, in Iowa.
How difficult was it to get that Saturday night race on regular NBC over the Air Network? Because I know a lot of times programming likes to hold onto their programming time on a Saturday night for non-sports events, but it seems like in NBC more and more sports programming is finding its way on Saturday nights.
Yeah, no doubt. I mean, I think they've tested the theory with NASCAR over the years. They've tested it now more recently with the Big Ten Network or Big Ten football. They've done really well with Saturday night sporting events, and I think that opened their mind to being willing to take a look at it in Iowa. So, we're thrilled. We're thrilled. We've worked hard on that. We look at it, something we look at every year. It just didn't work, before 2024.
After the Iowa Race, IndyCar gets ready to return to the Milwaukee Mile for a Labor Day weekend, doubleheader, and I know that the Penske Entertainment is going to play a key role in that event. The Wisconsin State Fair Board is also the promoter. So, how is that all going to work?
It's going to be exciting. I'll tell you, we're really thrilled to get back up there. First of all, the state is putting in a substantial amount of infrastructure improvements for the track. So, the majority of those will be complete before we get there in August. And the place is going to look great.
As you mentioned, the fair and the staff at the fair are the promoters Penske Entertainment, IndyCar will be helping them to organize the event wherever they might need some help.
They do a great job. They have over a million people every year at their fair. It's a wonderful event. They know how to do big events they don't know racing as well. So, we're just going to help them out where they need it on the racing side.
They still have people on their staff that were there when IndyCar ran there back in the 2010s, 2015s era. But we're just going to help them wherever they might need some support on the racing side.
But we're excited about it. I mean, I think, the number one goal there is to, to have it be as close to the fair as we can, not from a date standpoint, but from a look and feel standpoint. We're going to activate more of that fair infrastructure and footprint than has ever been activated for a race there outside of when it was during the fair.
It should be, I mean, it's all sitting there. They have some great facilities there. And we're going to activate as many of them as we can, and it's going to feel like a fair that has a race going on or a race that has a fair going on. So, it'll be fun.
The Labor Day weekend can either be a great benefit or it can be a liability. How do you gauge the two? Because a lot of people leave town, it's their last weekend to go out of town and go somewhere. Race fans may want to go to the Milwaukee Mile, but some of the locals may want to go to the lake in Northern Wisconsin. So, how do you juggle that?
Well, I think it's something that you have to build. So, we'll see how it goes in the first year. I don't have as much local market knowledge as of course, the Fair Board does and the folks over there. But I'm told that there are plenty of people that don't travel for that weekend.
I would say it's just like any other holiday weekend, Bruce. You got to build up the regular cadence of people wanting to do that and having it become a tradition. It's no different than the Detroit Lions playing on Thanksgiving every year.
It's no different than Indy 500 on Memorial Day weekend every year. It's no different. We hadn't had mid-Ohio during 4th of July weekend until after COVID. And that has become a really nice tradition down in Lexington to get people down and come out for the race on 4th of July weekend there.
So, I think it's just something you have to build and get people used to doing and make it a family tradition for everybody.
And because it's a double header and they're both on short ovals the Milwaukee race, it's going to play a really big role in determining the 2024 NTT IndyCar Series Champion. So, to have that much of a meaningful impact on the championship, how important is that to you?
Oh, it's huge. I mean, it's a double points weekend. Right before Nashville for the finale, which we'll be on a brand-new track, so who knows how that's going to play out. So, I think it's huge. It's great to have an oval in that spot. I mean, that's what sets IndyCar apart. We race on ovals. We race really well on ovals. Our cars are exciting on ovals. The racing is exciting.
And I think it's great to have an oval, not just one, but two ovals in that spot right before the race. Gateway too, World Wide Technology Raceway is only a couple weeks before as well. So, you really start to look at how those ovals are going to play in, Iowa is on the latter half of the season, and it's really you're going to have to have your oval game together to win that championship for sure.
When the schedule came out, one venue that was missing was Texas Motor Speedway. It had been on the schedule every year since 1997. Roger Penske, the owner of IndyCar, said he expects Texas to be back on the schedule soon. What can you tell us about that?
That's the goal. I mean, it was an unfortunate circumstance that came down to just scheduling and when that team, and when that facility could host an additional major event, we really liked that early April window that we were in there.
Of course, the team there does COTA in the third week of March. Same team that runs Texas does COTA for NASCAR. And then with NASCAR announcing their date in the mid-April timeframe, the team there just didn't feel like they could give IndyCar what it deserved as far as resources to run just a week before. And that's the only date that really worked for us.
So, it was just one of those scheduling deals that fell out the wrong way. We certainly want to get back to Texas. We like big ovals. That's a great oval for us as evidenced by the exciting race this past year in 2023. And it was one of those that we shook hands and parted friends and are looking for opportunities to get back. I'm hoping that's back on the schedule in ‘25.
As the man who puts the schedule together for IndyCar, how much easier is it going to be in 2025 in the fact that you will not have the Olympics to clear the deck for?
Well, our TV contract with NBC ends after the ‘24 season. So, we're actually in the process of talking to broadcasters. NBC wants us back for sure. They've been great partners and who knows, we might end up back with NBC, but we're taking a look around and testing market a little bit and seeing what other opportunities might be out there.
So, it will depend on where we are and what partner we're with, but certainly whether we're with NBC or someone else you're right, the Olympics will not be part of the scheduling dilemma in ‘25 which will be a plus for sure.
Look, it's something we work through. We do it every time, every four years, I guess this time it was every three years with the Olympics getting pushed because of COVID. But something we deal with, and it has its challenges, but we work through them.
Could there be some surprises on the 2025 schedule of new event or a return to a previous venue?
We're always looking for new, exciting events, whether that's a return to a previous venue, whether that's a brand-new event in some market that we are not currently in. We have a number of irons in the fire, not prepared to say anything here today about what might be available in 25 or what might be on the horizon in 25, but that's always the goal.
Well, he's a man who's always busy taking care of one thing or another as the Vice President of Promoter Relations for IndyCar. Michael Montri, good luck with your busy schedule in 2024. And thank you for joining us today on Pit Pass Indy, presented by Penske Truck Rental.
Thanks, Bruce. Appreciate it.
And that puts a checkered flag on this edition of Pit Pass Indy, presented by Penske Truck Rental. We want to thank our guest, IndyCar, Vice President of Promoter Relations, Michael Montri, for joining us on today's podcast.
Along with loyal listeners like you, our guests help make Pit Pass Indy, presented by Penske Truck Rental, your path to Victory Lane for all things IndyCar. And because of our guest and listeners Pit Pass Indy is proud to be the winner of the best podcast by the National Motorsports Press Association.
And once again, we want to congratulate Roger Penske, Team Penske and our sponsor, Penske Truck Rental for Ryan Blaney, winning the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series Championship, the 44th overall national championship for Team Penske.
For more IndyCar coverage, follow me at Twitter at BruceMartin_500. This has been a production of Evergreen Podcasts. A special thanks to our production team, executive producers are Brigid Coyne and Gerardo Orlando. Recordings and edits were done by me, Bruce Martin and final mixing was done by Dave Douglas. Learn more at evergreenpodcasts.com.
Until next time, be sure to keep it out of the wall.