NASCAR employees like to play jokes on each other, said Jimmy Small, so he was understandably a little worried that someone was playing a joke on him the day he got a message from the company’s chairman. It wasn’t a joke, and Small was named the president of Iowa Speedway in December after NASCAR purchased the track. Small brings six years of experience working on the NASCAR industry services team, during which he traveled the country working with each racetrack on marketing and operations initiatives. 

How did you come to get this job?
What brought me here to Des Moines was a phone call last September from our chairman at NASCAR, Brian France. It caught me out of the blue. I was at a meeting with some co-workers and I checked my phone and saw in all caps an (email) subject line that said, “BRIAN FRANCE.” I thought that was unusual. I opened it up, and the message said, “Hey, Brian is trying to reach you.” It was his assistant. ... So I called her and said, “This must be a joke, right?” And she said, “No, he wants to talk to you about something urgent.” I called him and we got right into it. He said, “Hey, we’re very interested in purchasing Iowa Speedway. ... We want you to run the speedway.” I had to sort of take a step back, and my heart just started beating.

What have you learned about Central Iowa so far?
First of all, Iowa is home to some of the best fans, if not the best fans, in motorsports. I think that was obvious before we even got here as owners and operators of Iowa Speedway. We could see that right off the bat when Iowa Speedway was built and launched back in 2006. The reception has been incredible. 

What have you learned in your past stops with NASCAR?
I spent the last six years working with racetracks, race teams, drivers, really getting exposed to the best practices across our industry. I have seen the best of it from all corners and aspects of our business. I think that’s a great asset that not only I bring but the entire NASCAR family brings to the Iowa Speedway now that we’re owners.

You want to make Iowa Speedway a testing ground for fan initiatives. What should people look for?
The fan experience in totality is what we are focusing on. From the moment they get their tickets or the moment they go to our website, every aspect is being scrutinized, is being looked at from a NASCAR standpoint, from a racetrack standpoint, from a business standpoint. We’ve got feedback on how we deliver tickets. We’ve got feedback on how fans are getting into the racetrack, parking, camping, seating, concessions, forms of entertainment. All of those different aspects of our business are being looked at closely. 

What should people look for in the first year of NASCAR ownership?
I think what we’re looking to do is to try some new things out. On the first race weekend, we brought in some new forms of entertainment. We brought in Montgomery Gentry on Saturday night. That was a big hit. We had a season-ticket holder party that we kicked off on the Saturday of our opening race weekend. We had drivers do a Q&A. We had snacks for fans, a tent right there in Turn 1 that had incredible views of the racetrack. And then we gave them a goody bag. Many of them had a pass to the garage, or access to our drivers’ meeting, a fan suite that we reserved just for our fans. All different areas, points of reward that really drive value in the ticket itself. 

How do you see the track’s relationship with the Greater Des Moines business community?
We work closely with the Greater Des Moines Partnership. We work closely with the Iowa Association of Business and Industry and the Greater Des Moines Convention and Visitors Bureau. So those are three groups we meet with regularly to really see how we can get more involved in the community. So we’ve discussed many different ways. We’ve been really well-received. We’ve been invited to all sorts of events and participated as often as possible. The community is so great and everyone is so focused on growth and just making this place one of the best places to live in the country. That’s really fun to be involved in.