MIS president finds life path on racetrackWritten by Ryan Fowler | | email@example.com
It’s a late summer evening in Wilmington, N.C., circa 1991.
Roger Curtis once again sits before his wobbly card table. To his right, a pile of phone bills begin to resemble Pisa. To his left, a bowl of macaroni and cheese acts as a constant reminder of sacrifices made.
Some 18 years later, Curtis is the president of Michigan International Speedway (MIS).
Curtis could never be a NASCAR driver, however, his life is made up of so many forks in the road, his résumé took the life of a Redwood.
After high school, and like most NASCAR fans, Curtis attended Purdue University majoring in nuclear engineering. He blames his high school guidance counselor for convincing him that math was his strongest subject. But when the nuclear equations consisted of more letters than numbers, Curtis said fork this.
So, he transferred from Purdue to Indiana State University, back home in Terre Haute. He also changed his major to marketing.
After graduation, he moved to California, hoping to change the world by sharing the gift of music with the bands he represented. Sonic Youth and The Smithereens were his clients, but the veil of Hollywood elitism was lifted soon thereafter, and Curtis saw the ugly side of show business.
He traveled cross-country to North Carolina to market the southern music scene. The problem was, musicians would dig their Tar Heel into your neck before they would say thank you.
His forking life had gone left; it had gone right. It was time for his straightaway.
Come 1990, his love of racing and the outdoors became his passion. He quit the music business and began calling everybody and anybody connected to the racing scene in North Carolina.
Curtis would eventually find a gig working for Winston Cup veteran Dave Marcis. His compensation: a dollar and a dream, minus the dollar. The 24-year-old Curtis began calling around, looking for companies to sponsor Marcis’ ride on race day.
When he wasn’t turning and burning the Yellow Pages and cold calling companies, Curtis set up banquet halls for parties and receptions. On his breaks, he would make it a point to watch qualifying on television.
His dedication to his craft was shared by his wife, who quit school and began waiting tables to help support his dream.
Fast forward 365 days, and Curtis landed his first paid gig in NASCAR, selling sponsorships for Bobby Allison Motorsports. His compensation: $15,000.
Curtis would spend morning, noon and night on the phone contacting prospective clients. And he remembers the more time spent on the phone translated into less money at the end of the month.
“This was before it was 10 cents a minute,” Curtis said. “Phone bills were really high when you’re calling Fortune 500 companies all over the country.”
Thanks to the robust phone bills, the Curtis family dined on macaroni and cheese — and lots of it.
Curtis would grind out work on the team side of NASCAR up until 1997. He introduced Dewalt Tools to the sport, still a sponsor to this day.
He then crossed over to working at tracks across the country. He started at Watkins Glen for three and a half years. Then he moved on to Richmond. Then cross-country, he and his wife returned to California. Not his idea of paradise.
So, when former MIS president Brett Shelton resigned in the summer of 2006, Curtis got the call he had dreamed of and was on his way to Michigan.
For the past three years, Curtis has been working to transform his track into his own version of Disneyland. MIS is his Magic Kingdom.
The drivers are his Mickey, Donald, and Goofy (yes, Joey Logano I’m talking to you.)
His passion is obvious from the way he talks about making the fans — his guests — feel right at home when they arrive. He personally welcomes them as he opens the gates to the infield on race weekends. You can sense he truly enjoys going to work each and every day.
To think he could have been a nuclear engineer or a music executive, but his fork in the road led him to Brooklyn, Mich. This is his home.
Curtis tells me from his office high above MIS, he can look out his window and point to the seats he sat in as a fan years ago. The view serves as a humble reminder of his ride to the top.
As for the thought of eating mac and cheese: Forks need not apply.
Ryan Fowler is the weekend sports anchor at NBC24. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.