St. John Central graduate busy this week in Virginia

Dennis Bickmeier is a busy man these days, but the St. John Central grad wouldn’t have it any other way.

Bickmeier, who completed his second season as president of Richmond International Raceway in July, is busy preparing, along with his staff of many, for this weekend’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at their track in Richmond, Va.

And this isn’t just any Sprint Cup Series event, the Federated Auto Parts 400 has also been dubbed ‘The Race to the Chase,’ as it marks the cutoff for the season-ending 10-race showdown that will eventually determine the season’s top driver.

“I haven’t been able to wipe the smile off my face, and I’ve had some comments about that,” Bickmeier admitted Thursday afternoon via telephone from his office at the Raceway. “With everything on the line as far as drivers getting into The Chase, it’s amazing. We couldn’t have written a better script.

“With all the focus being on our track this week, it’s been a great honor, and we’re going to put on a good show for the fans,” he predicted.

The race is set for Saturday night at 7:30 and will be televised locally on ABC-TV.

“It’s been interesting for us to watch the points race unfold all season long,” he added. “You can’t talk about the sport and all the playoff scenarios without talking about Richmond. Every week some driver was in and some driver was on the bubble. Then the next week, it was the other way around.

“I applaud NASCAR officials for the points system. I love it,” he continued. “It puts emphasis on the first 26 races to get into The Chase.”

He said that work actually began following the track’s first Sprint Cup Series race in April – the Toyota Owners 400 – which was won by Kevin Harvick.

“We plan year-round for these two events,” he said. “After last week in Atlanta, the TV trucks started coming in about 24 later. Then everything you need for the infrastructure started coming in. Things like the merchandise haulers and the haulers for the teams.

“There’s something new every day when I come to work on weeks like this.”

In addition to serving as the host to the 43 teams, Bickmeier will also have more than two handfuls of family and friends in attendance, including “a lot of people” from the Ohio Valley, he said.

Bickmeier said that Lansing-area resident Chris Bryniarski and eight of his buddies attended the April race, and he is bringing about 14 people this weekend.

“I think half of the Ohio Valley will be watching high school football this weekend, but the other half will be down here,” he joked.

Prior to coming to Richmond, Bickmeier served as president at Michigan International Speedway for 3.5 years, and at Auto Club Speedway (Now California Speedway) for seven years.

After all of those years in the business, does he have a favorite driver?

“You try to stay impartial because you work with so many of these teams year-round,” he explained. “I had never followed the sport but had the chance to go to a race in California. It just so happened that Jeff Gordon won the race, so I’ve kind of followed him.”

He said that he’s heard similar stories from fans over the years.

“When I hear those stories, I can relate to the fans and their experience,” he added.

The Busch brothers – Kurt and Kyle – are also two of his favorites, as is Tony Stewart.

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