Monday, June 20, 2011

Infineon Raceway: From the Inside with Steve Page

A Chat with the President of Infineon Raceway
Steve Page

I recently had the opportunity to speak with the president of Infineon Raceway at his office, which is nestled in the hills of Sonoma, California. Living in the Napa Valley, 30 minutes from the track, Infineon is the track that holds so many memories for myself and my family. From my first date with my husband, to taking our daughter for her first NASCAR race, this track is definitely our "home track." So this was definitely a great opportunity for me to peek “Inside the Oval” and see just what it takes to run the track.

Of California’s two tracks on NASCAR’s Sprint Cup circuit, Infineon Raceway offers the motorsports fan a state-of-the-art venue in which to view their favorite sport. Offering the drivers competing in the Toyota/Save Mart 350 NSC race 110 laps with 1,100 turns and more than 160 feet of elevation change.

Interesting Facts: 
  • In 1995, Dale Earnhardt Sr. won his first and only road-course race at Infineon. 
  • Turn 3a reaches 174 feet, while the lowest point at Turn 10 is just 14 feet. 
  • Infineon Raceway is home to a bustling motor-sports industrial park of more than 65 year-round businesses, including car preparation and restoration, materials fab., vintage car storage and race teams, to name just a few. 
  • The berms on the turns of the Infineon Raceway road course are painted blue and gold in honor of Track President Steve Page's attendance at nearby University of California, Berkeley. 
  • Find more interesting facts at the InfineonRaceway.com website. 
The facility opens its gates 340 days a year hosting a wide variety of events, which include but are not limited to NASCAR’s Sprint Cup, IRL IndyCar, NHRA Drags, AMA (American Motorcycle Association), and Superbike. Check out its website for a full schedule.

Operating under Speedway Motorsports Inc., Infineon Raceway joined the family of tracks which also include Atlanta, Charlotte, Texas, Las Vegas, New Hampshire and Bristol. The one thing all of these tracks have in common is their desire to bring the fans a top-notch venue in which to enjoy many types of motorsports events.

That was definitely the goal of Steve Page, Infineon’s president/general manager, when he took over the track in 1991. At that time, he had a vision for this track that has made it the fan-friendly track that it is today. Prior to his time at Infineon, Mr. Page worked as press secretary to U.S. Congressman Leon Panetta, having spent several years on Capitol Hill.

His life took a new direction leading him into the exciting world of sports. He worked with the Bay Area’s own Oakland Athletics in marketing and on special events. When I asked what the transition was like when he took over his position at the track, Steve responded, “Dramatic.”

What he is referring to by dramatic is the changes that would have to be made to make this track one that he had envisioned. He already had the location in his favor with Sonoma Valley as its home, not to mention the fact that the track was the only one that hosted NASCAR racing in Northern California.

Under his watchful eye, the track began a major makeover at the cost of $65 million, transforming it into one of the country’s premier motorsports venues.

We sat in his office up on the hill that overlooked the track and both Napa and Sonoma Valleys. The view is breathtaking. I asked him what one in his position might do to relax and unwind and he responded by saying, “I get the privilege to go home to Sonoma every night, as well as wake up there every morning. That’s the best part about this job.” Steve and his wife Judy make their home in the beautiful Sonoma Valley, and their son Kevin currently is attending University of California, San Diego.

We discussed if Infineon was expecting a larger crowd with the loss of a ACS (Auto Club Speedway) race from the NASCAR circuit and what if anything they have done to bring those fans up here to the beautiful Sonoma Valley. Mr. Page indicated to me that they haven’t seen any higher numbers than usual and feels that the track is just going through the same economic woes as the country. He feels that after another year or so, they’d be back to normal. As far as advertising goes, they began their "Think outside the Oval” campaign, which has been a tremendous success.



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Our conversation turned to what the track has done in terms of renovations since 2010 and what the plans are for the future. He stated that, "Other than a few tweaks here and there, nothing really major has been done.” However, behind the scenes they have worked hard to become a track that cares.

The end of 2010 was the announcement that the track would be "going green" with the installation of solar panels at the raceway. They are located throughout the track. Approximately 1,650 panels are located in places like the sound wall at Turn 10, the Raceway Café and Infineon's main offices.

The installation was completed during the raceway’s celebration of Earth Day in April 2011. Panasonic’s Sanyo partnered with the track in their desire to become one of two green raceways and achieving 100% sustainability. With this upgrade, and other unique implementations (see below), the track has been able to offset approximately 41% of its total use.

Steve Page commented in a recent press release, “It has been very exciting to see all of this work unfold and now look out on this beautiful array of solar panels and think about the power they are generating every minute the sun is out.”


A Chat with Steve Page

LB: (Lindi Bess) Are you originally from the Bay Area?
SP (Steve Page): “ I am originally from England, moved to California and I graduated from UC Berkeley.”

LB: Has there been any discussion on bringing back anther series? Or even just adding a second race to the schedule?
SP: “No, not at this point in time. That’s not something that is up to us and I don’t think we’d be first on the list.”

LB: How many employees are necessary to run the weekend? Do you hire from the Bay Area?
SP: "SMI brings in a small group, then we hire from the area. We also have several volunteers for many different organizations. It probably takes around 2,000 people.”

LB: When looking at the preparation that goes into a NASCAR race, what is the most difficult aspect?
SP: "I think it's trying, and it's less difficult now, but trying to keep your eye on all the different balls. When I first came here, we had a much smaller staff and a much more difficult facility to work with. That was a bigger challenge. Now we have such a strong group of people working here and such good management. The facility works so well, it's less challenging. So trying to keep track of all the details I should be in charge of, or making sure that someone else does.”

LB: Any future renovations for the track?
SP: "I don’t know that there will be any dramatic physical changes to the facility. We’re always looking at what we have and how we can use it better and more efficiently. The key thing is the comfort of the fans and how we move them around, and the kind of show we put on for them. We’ve got some tweaks but no major changes.”

LB Is there any talk of bringing in any of the HD technology like they did in Charlotte with the big screen?
SP: "We have our relationship with Panasonic that did that, that this year that put the huge Solar Electric System in. I don’t know that we have the right configuration to do one big TV screen. The challenge with a road course is that you have to put screens in so many different locations. We’re always looking for ways to upgrade the technology of the video but on a more temporary basis.”

LB: What do you feel distinguishes Infineon from other tracks on the NASCAR circuit in regards to hospitality for the fans?
SP: “Well, first of all, the magnificent setting here at the mouth of the Sonoma Valley. I can’t think of a better place to have to come to work everyday. That one of the real drawing cards for the facility and the fact of where it is. People can enjoy the wine country and everything the valley has to offer, beyond just a visit to the track."

Steve went on to say:

“I also think it’s the unconventional nature that the drivers have to turn right and we’ve created these great amphitheater style seats (see photo below) on the hillside and opened up the venue so that even though it’s a natural terrain road course, you can follow a car all the way around the racetrack. Its' trying to create the comfortable countryside rural feeling with permanent modern amenities, great food and all the things that the Wine Country is known for.”

Visitors Information:

Infineon is a short drive from the Napa Valley, and just over the hill from downtown Sonoma. Its location offers a wide variety of services to accommodate everyone from kids to adults. You can spend the day in the City (SF) shopping on Fisherman’s Wharf, as well as taking the family to Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo. All are within an hour from the track. Wineries are as abundant as the vineyards and can be found throughout both the Napa and Sonoma Valleys.

I would also like to thank Steve Page and the Infineon staff for their time. I enjoyed meeting them all. Their patience and helpfulness was appreciated for this and future interviews.

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