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MIS boss named "Innovator"

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Bloomberg Businessweek has named Michigan International Speedway chief Roger Curtis an “Innovator” for his efforts to bring research and development testing to the Brooklyn, Mich., racetrack.

Curtis says his position in auto innovation is an unlikely one.

For most of his 18 years in motorsports administration, he focused on marketing, which is what the Terre Haute, Ind., native studied at Indiana State University. He hopes opening the speedway to researchers is one way to persuade auto companies to keep their research and development spending in Michigan, his adopted state.

"When the time comes for the floodgate for really testing connected vehicles and connected roadways, we'd like to be sure that it's done right here," he said.

MIS, a NASCAR racetrack in Brooklyn, Mich., about 100 miles west of Detroit, is conveniently located near 80 percent of the world’s automotive engineering and R&D companies and leading universities. The track annually hosts NASCAR’s top auto racing events: Sprint Cup Series, Nationwide Series and Camping World Truck Series.

Curtis now wants to turn the speedway into a test bed for transport innovation. The next generation of roads and automobiles will be more intelligent, talking to each other and wireless-data networks to help keep people safe and traffic flowing smoothly. A smart intersection, for instance, might be able to detect a vehicle about to run a red light and warn other cars, preventing collisions.

Such smart systems must work with all kinds of autos from different manufacturers, so Curtis says they'll need a neutral site for planning and testing, and that the 1,400-acre speedway is ideal. The site has 7.8 miles of roadways that go mostly unused outside the June and August NASCAR weekends at the track, 26 miles of fiber-optic cable to pipe in high-speed Net, and Wi-Fi. Curtis is also developing movable intersections so researchers can simulate various driving conditions, including rural highways and busy urban grids.

The speedway has already hosted a handful of automotive tests, giving the speedway a new income source. The U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center conducted a four-day experiment using intelligent systems to guide convoys last year. Five carmakers have also looked over the property, and two may be back this year to test smart systems.

The racetrack annually hosts the collegiate Formula SAE competition, as well as emissions-related research, including final tests for the Progressive Automotive Xprize. The Xprize awarded $10 million to teams that built a vehicle capable of achieving 100 miles per gallon.

Richard Wallace, a director at the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor., Mich., who specializes in intelligent vehicle communications, says “having a test facility like this is very valuable. These systems all have to be able to talk to each other.”

And Curtis believes that is just the beginning.

"We're on the map now," he said. 

MIS, which served as an AMC test track for several years starting in the mid-1970s, has two 1.9-mile road courses that can be used for testing. The two-mile oval used during motorsports races can also be used for testing. In all, the racetrack is comprised of 1,400 acres, most of which the Curtis would consider for testing locations if a private company needed a specific terrain or environment. Testing could be available year-round, with the exception of the NASCAR event weekends.

For more information about research and development opportunities at Michigan International Speedway, please visit www.MISpeedway.com or call (517) 592-6666.

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Taken from “Innovator” column by Jeff Green in Bloomberg Businessweek at: http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/11_07/b4215048285120.htm

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