FONTANA, California: With a full year under his belt as president of Auto Club Speedway, Dave Allen can sport a smile in an instant. It’s been, and continues to be, a tough job with difficult challenges, but it remains something the 45-year-old enjoys.
On a daily basis.
And he’s not the only one. Allen, who has been at the track since its early days, has the respect of his staff. They have rallied behind their leader in his quest to not only improve the experience for competitors and workers, but also the fan base.
By the time the green flag drops on Sunday (Monday in Manila) for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Auto Club 400, the track will more than likely announce a sellout for the third consecutive year and the second with Allen in charge. He was promoted to the spot after Gillian Zucker left the track to become president of the Los Angeles Clippers.
It was a popular decision by track owner International Speedway Corporation (ISC) as far as the Fontana workforce was concerned. Since his promotion, Allen has been a regular on the “rubber chicken” circuit, speaking to various service clubs in the region to boost interest and sales.
It’s not been overlooked by the Fontana staff.
“There are good bosses that say, ‘Go!’ and there are great leaders that say, ”Let’s go!” said Fritz Maskrey, vice president of corporate partnerships and marketing, who has worked alongside Allen at the track longer than any other manager. “Dave is a great leader that empowers his staff and allows them to learn and grow through experiences.”
Allen admits his learning curves was not all that great, more of shifting responsibilities.
“That’s been hard for me at times because I’m a go-do-it type of person,” Allen said. “As the year has gone on, being pulled in so many different ways, you have to rely on the staff. We have such a fantastic team the transition wasn’t difficult because there wasn’t a large learning curve.”
“It was an adjustment period for me. I can’t believe it’s been a year,” he added.
Allen will admit the fact there are so many long-tenured employees speaks highly for the site and ISC.
“It says something about the organization and ISC and how they treat their people,” Allen said. “Everyday here is different, fresh. We have to push the envelope.”
Allen traveled from Colorado State to Laguna Seca to meet Roger Penske, who built the Fontana facility in 1997. Although Penske didn’t have a spot for Allen at the time, he did manage to speak well enough of him to help him get a position at the road course facility.
In April 1997, Allen moved south as marketing manager of California Speedway.
In five years, Allen was promoted to senior director of sales and marketing, in charge of the speedway’s corporate partnerships, sponsorship, hospitality, suite sales and displays. He and Zucker led the effort that, in 2008, resulted in Auto Club of Southern California assuming the title sponsorship at $1 million annually.
Auto Club Speedway is the one ISC facility with such a naming sponsorship.
Allen is one of four former speedway managers to have been named track presidents across the country. He joins a group that includes Roger Curtis (Michigan), Craig Rust (Mid-Ohio), Dennis Bickmeier (Richmond) and Michael Printup (Watkins Glen).
Curtis and Bickmeier often joined Allen at lunch with the late Les Richter, at the time an executive at the track and best remembered for his days as general manager at Riverside International Raceway and an executive for NASCAR. Those lunches were legendary as they were often training sessions.
“Some of it is definitely hard work in this market,” Allen said. “This is a very unique market and there are a lot of challenges we have to overcome and it’s a good training platform, not that the other places aren’t. But this market is so unique from others.
But not all the news has been good for Allen heading into his second season. This will be the first year in the last five that IndyCar will not compete on the world’s fastest open-wheel track. The date bounced around in that time period, going from the fall to mid-summer. Last year’s MAVTV 500 was held in mid-June and produced the smallest IndyCar crowd ever, just more than 20,000. When the track hosted CART races and the Marlboro 500, crowds hovered around the 90,000 mark as tickets were part of the season package.
“I have a lot of passion about [open-wheel racing] since my go-kart days,” Allen said. “It torques me a little bit, but we did everything we could. That was a challenge, but I can sleep at night.”
Although racing is an integral part of Allen’s life, it isn’t the sole focus.
Earlier this year, Allen held a new speedway event, the 2016 Light The Night Walk for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS). Another fund-raiser for 80-plus types of blood cancers is scheduled for October 29.
Two speedway employees will benefit directly from the effort.
“We are honored to work alongside all of the people behind LLS,” Allen said. “It’s a disease that strikes indiscriminately.”