Small takes in Kansas race before banner weekend
May 10, 2014, Jim Pedley, NASCAR Wire Service, NASCAR.com
KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- Jimmy Small knows exactly what question to expect more than any other as he starts his first season the new president of Iowa Speedway. That question is: Just how old are you?
To meet him is to understand why that question has greeted Small just about everywhere he's been since being tapped by NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France to run the Newton, Iowa, tri-oval for the Daytona Beach, Florida-based company.
Small is 28 years old and even dressed in a nicely fitting suit and dress shirt, he looks much younger.
But in talking to Small, it becomes evident that he is a young man with a solid plan, and that plan is to make Iowa Speedway an even bigger success story than it was when it first opened in 2006.
During a visit to Kansas Speedway to take in Saturday's 5-hour Energy 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race, he talked at length about things like engaging fans and making sure the entire state of Iowa knows that the impressive 0.875-mile facility located 30 miles east of Des Moines is their track. The facility's season begins next Sunday with a NASCAR Nationwide Series event, the first NNS stand-alone event of the season.
"In meetings, I think people go in and think, 'Oh, this kid's a little young,' " Small said. "But I think I can be, in my approach, very professional in how I do things. I think you have to (especially) be (that way) at a young age and that's already proved very beneficial so far. I think that comes from just being passionate about the sport."
Small grew up deep in the heart of the automobile culture -- Detroit. A Notre Dame graduate, he went to college just down the road from one of the most famous race tracks in the world -- Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Yet it wasn't until he was headed toward the cold, hard-working world that he discovered the joys of racing.
When he did, he attacked.
He headed south during spring break as a senior at Notre Dame. Not to party and soak in beer and sunshine, but to knock on doors at NASCAR's headquarters in Daytona.
"Low and behold, I got a call a week before I graduated," Small said. "They flew me down for a final interview and I got hired a couple weeks later."
He started in series operations at NASCAR but quickly moved to other areas of focus.
He remembers when the offer to work at Iowa Speedway, which NASCAR had acquired in 2013 from the previous owners, was made.
He got what appeared to be an email from France last fall after returning from the race at Chicagoland Speedway.
"I thought it was a joke," Small said. "We always have fun games we play at NASCAR where we play jokes on each other to call someone back, so I thought it was a practical joke."
It wasn't. France told him to mull the offer. He didn't have to for long.
This year as a rookie track president, Small will supervise a track which hosts such major racing series as the NASCAR Nationwide Series and the IndyCar Series ... even though he looks like he should still be working on mastering slot cars.