The NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series hits Watkins Glen Sunday and Hamburg native and Watkins Glen International president Michael Printup is gearing up for the I Love New York 355.
"Mother Nature has cooperated with her blue skies and we're getting the grass cut and everything shined up," Printup said Monday. "I think we're pretty much ready to go. It comes so fast. It's hard to imagine it's the end of July already."
This season NASCAR is testing its race weekend scheduling waters. The NASCAR Cup Series qualifying at The Glen had been held a day or two before the race. This season, NASCAR Cup Series qualifying at the Glen is being held on the same day as the race. Qualifying will be at 11:05 a.m. Sunday, the race at 3:18 p.m..
"There was four tracks picked, Pocono, Indianapolis, Watkins Glen and Martinsville to run as test shows," Printup said. "What they're really doing is instead of having practice on Friday ... they're making Friday a little bit more exciting. They're bringing in a bunch of drivers Friday. We're going to celebrate all these drivers. They won't have a drivers suit or helmet on. There will be no car time and instead they get to hang out with the fans. That's what they're going to do.
"Yeah, the racing is kind of put into two days but the activities are still a three-day show which I think is great. When we have our free concert on Friday night with Lukas Nelson we're going to have a bunch of drivers there. We heard how Pocono and Indianapolis was and we're the third in this test program so I think we're looking at it. Obviously we want to have some fun with it.
"The drivers will be on stage, giving away items. We got Jimmie Johnson coming and Trevor Bayne and other really good guys coming over to celebrate with us. The whole idea is to make this a more impactful weekend by putting the drivers in front of the fans. Even with the added events on Sunday we will still have a long list of drivers attending hospitality events Sunday morning. We understand what NASCAR's trying to do.
"We still have the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East racing here Friday so it's not like we're ignoring all on-track time Friday."
In the recent weeks, The Glen's Cup Series race picked up new title sponsorship from New York State, replacing Cheez-It, a Kellogg's product that ended its sponsorship after last year's race. Even though Watkins Glen, as well as all other tracks on the current NASCAR Cup Series schedule, receive between $13 million and $16 million a race courtesy of NASCAR's contract with it's current television partners, Printup says the new sponsorship from the state is important for other reasons then just financial.
"We've been working with I Love New York and Empire State Development since last December," Printup said. "We had a deal 99 percent done in February and we just had to get some more things accomplished and show them the value, especially when you invest in a race track like this. It means tens of millions of dollars of exposure. The I Love New York brand is very strong, internationally speaking. We do get a lot of good coverage with them so we're really happy they jumped on the bandwagon. Also the money from the sponsorship helps everywhere along the line."
This season for the first time NASCAR Cup Series races are being run with predetermined stage breaks, with stage wins and additional bonus points awarded for stage finishes. The idea is to create more mid-race passing, competition and more varied pit stop strategies.
"It proved interesting this past Sunday at Pocono," Printup said. "It's what I anticipate for us because what happened yesterday in Pocono is the leaders pitted before the end of the stage, giving up the stage win even though they had enough gas to finish that stage and claim the stage win. That was interesting. I think that we'll probably see the same thing at The Glen. You might see people give up the stage win and go for the big Victory Lane at the race's end."
Printup anticipates tickets for Sunday's race will sell out Saturday, but as of now various ticket options are still available.
"Our general admission, which allows a fan to go trackside in a lot of different places because of our elevation changes, is great," Printup said. "But our new admission ticket that we're really pushing is the Esses party pack, which is at the top of the Esses. It's an elevated deck. We still have grandstand seats too. We have all the options available but tickets are going fast."
Printup has been concerned about the tornado that hit the Hamburg area July 20 , heavily damaging the home where he grew up.
"My sister lives right across the street from the Erie County Fairgrounds but she wasn't hit but it just missed her house," Printup said. "But our old house that I grew up in Armor from when I was a baby until I left for college, over by St. Bernadette's Church, actually had a tree land on top of it. There's some pretty big maple trees that surround that house and I didn't see what kind of damage personally but I did see it on Facebook. I heard nobody was hurt and that's good news."