CEDAR RAPIDS – Typically, when a person thinks of the president of a sports team, venue or body, they think of a middle-aged, possibly graying man or woman who has spent decades working to reach that level.
But when Iowa Speedway announced its new track president on Thursday, fans and onlookers might’ve been a little surprised at what they saw: 28-year-old Jimmy Small.
“I feel like I’ve been ready for this my whole life,” Small said in a phone interview on Thursday. “When I took a job with NASCAR six years ago, everything I’ve done over the course of my career has been in preparation for an opportunity like this.
“The wealth of knowledge not only I bring, but NASCAR brings, to the table for this position, for the leadership (and) for the future growth of this facility is pretty outstanding. And we’re going to be very effective with how we do (things).”
Small is a native of suburban Detroit, who has spent the last six years working in various capacities with NASCAR, most notably under Vice President of Industry Services Jill Gregory within the Industry Services Department, which deals directly with drivers, teams and tracks.
He spent much of his time travelling across the country to tracks as part of that NASCAR marketing arm, engaging drivers and teams with the fans.
Gregory said despite Small’ age, he’s more than ready for the task ahead because of the experience gained so far. He’s built belief in NASCAR executives through the work he’s done – his appointment to this position came “straight from the top,” according to Gregory, as NASCAR Chairman Brian France hand-picked Small.
“I think that he might be young in age, but his approach, to me, is one of a more seasoned veteran in the sport,” Gregory said. “He combines the best of both worlds. He’s very organized; he’s very methodical and thoughtful in his approach to things. But the great thing about his age and (demographic) he comes from, he brings to that organizational strength a ton of creativity (and) new ideas.”
With that experience, Small has been able to develop the tools to gauge expectations in terms of what people are looking for and expecting.
Couple that with the fact that he spent three months prior to the announcement living in central Iowa – in a somewhat covert style, he said, as details of the speedway’s purchase were far from finalized – and getting a feel for people here, the market and what will help profitability, and Small believes any nervousness or butterflies have since dissipated.
Gregory touted Small’ preparedness and confidence as well, and that was evident when he was asked about any pressure he might be feeling now that everything official. After all, when the media tour and roll outs are over, he’s going to be the man in charge.
Because even though he comes from NASCAR and will still technically work for Gregory – he would fall under the “tracks” portion of Gregory’s Industry Services Department – Iowa Speedway is his to run, and as Gregory put it, he’ll have to “roll up his sleeves and get to work.”
“It’s less about the pressure and more about taking advantage of every opportunity,” Small said. “I get really excited about what we have in front of us, and it’s just a matter of making sure we’re prepared to strategize and then ultimately making decisions.”
The decisions in front of Small are definitely not diminutive.
With NASCAR’s acquisition of the track, fans and skeptics wondered if that meant a Sprint Cup date for 2015, when the series’ new TV deal kicks in and the time frame for which NASCAR recently said was a possible time for big changes to the schedule.
Despite that hope, when NASCAR announced the purchase of Iowa Speedway, it also said there were no foreseeable plans for a Sprint Cup race in Newton. Small went a step further on Thursday, saying it’s definitely not in the cards for 2015, either.
For Iowa Speedway, he said, the focus going forward will be bringing a better overall experience to the facility. Small said he wants to make it a year-round facility – concerts, trade shows, etc – and believes it can be.
But he also knows it all starts with the racing.
“We have a number of viable and nationally prominent racing series that have come here and will continue to come here in the Nationwide Series, IndyCar, Camping World Truck Series, K&N Pro Series,” Small said. “Our goal as a speedway is to fully leverage the stars within those series, the stars we see and you’re going to see us try make the Iowa Speedway the crown jewel of those series.
“We want to focus on the series that have been coming, that (fans here) have been supporting for years.”