"The Grand Full config is a mix of moderate elevation change, medium speed, technical, high speed, high load corners, and also has three separate sections that see sustained triple digit speeds. I find it to be very challenging but also very repeatable. It definitely rewards those who take the time to get into a rhythm. Most of all, tons of fun!"
National Corvette Museum Motorsports Park
by Ziva Allen
Auto TrackDay Monthly recently spoke with NCM Motorsports Park Track Operations Manager Matt Busby. Matt manages the track which is affiliated with the famous National Corvette Museum located in Bowling Green, Kentucky. He mentions that “recreational track driving” is booming. How exciting for us HPDE enthusiasts! We are getting more and more cool tracks to drive at and this one gives us the opportunity to combine a track weekend with a visit to the National Corvette Museum; certainly one of the Meccas of speed. Read on to pick up some interesting facts about how the facility came to be and what to expect if you are lucky enough to do a track day there.
Q. Can you describe the 3.15 mile track for us? Your website describes it as a technical course. Please tell us what drivers can expect when driving on this track? Any special turns you can talk about?
A. The track can be broken up into several different configurations, including a 2.0 mile West Track, a 1.1 mile East Track (that can both be run completely separate from each other), the LeMans loop which incorporates elements of the Circuit de la Sarthe provided to us by the engineers at Pratt and Miller (Playstation Chicane, Porsche Curves, Mulsanne Kink and the Mulsanne corner) and then the 3.2 mile Grand Full configuration which most organizations have booked with us. The Grand Full config is a mix of moderate elevation change, medium speed, technical, high speed, high load corners, and also has three separate sections that see sustained triple digit speeds. I find it to be very challenging but also very repeatable. It definitely rewards those who take the time to get into a rhythm. Most of all, tons of fun!
Q. We’ve previously interviewed Timothy Frost, owner of the National Speedway Directory, and we note that NCM Motorsports Park was awarded the Outstanding Facility of the Year award at Frost’s Race Track Business Conference. With so many tracks across the country vying for the same opportunity, can you tell us what about the Park earned this coveted recognition?
A. I think there’s a lot to that. First of all, the last decade or so we have seen a bunch of new tracks being built all around the country. Amongst those tracks you see a few different business models for these tracks’ main stream of revenue, those being loosely pro racing, membership, and recreation. Recreation is the category that we fall under which, in my opinion, is the model that has had the most success. Recreational motorsport is booming!
Secondly, our facility is very conveniently positioned, both geographically as well as in proximity to the advanced infrastructure of hotel and restaurant choices. We have 3,000 hotel rooms and 150 restaurants all within 10 miles or so. So we can provide service like a big city without the drawbacks of traffic, travel times, etc. Geographically, we have some really major markets within 8 hours of the track including Atlanta, Cincinnati, Louisville, Nashville, Chicago, St. Louis, and many others. We offer folks who would normally have 1 or 2 track options something new and easy to get to.
Finally, I think the facility itself has pulled off some small miracles. In the grand scheme of track construction costs, our phase 1 plan brings us in at about $23 million, which is much lower than the normal figures we are used to hearing. We are currently under construction of our 24 bay Garage/Restroom/Concession building, as well as getting our plans together to hopefully start construction on our Control Tower in the coming months. We have built/are building a world-class facility without out-spending the potential of the facility.
Q. What is the Park’s affiliation to the Corvette Museum?
A. The “NCM” in our name (NCM Motorsports Park) actually stands for the “National Corvette Museum” so we are an investment of the Museum. Without getting TOO deep into it, the Museum is a 501(c) 3 non-profit but the track is a for-profit entity, leasing the land and the buildings from the Museum. The idea for a racetrack evolved from the HPDE program that the Museum has run for over a decade. The idea of a track started small, with the Museum purchasing about 70 acres for a small road course and skid pad in 2008. The original proposal went to the Museum Board of Directors who asked a small group of folks that have been supporters of the museum for a bit more perspective on motorsport in general. Among those, and one of the biggest influences on the project, has been Doug Fehan, Project Manager of Corvette Racing. He made it apparent that the Museum was thinking too small. The project just progressively grew from there into what we have become today, a ~190 acre facility with options on another 220 acres. We have been extremely fortunate to have had the support of Corvette Racing and the Pratt and Miller folks. As I mentioned before, they even had a hand in the design and incorporated elements of Le Mans into the track.
The Museum then had to find a way to pay for the construction of the track, to which I have to say, the Corvette community is one of the most generous and supportive group of people I have ever had the privilege of working with. The Museum created a couple of fund raising programs – The One Acre Club and the Paving the Way program (which helped pay for the asphalt). The One Acre Club gave folks the opportunity to “buy” an acre and enter into an exclusive community while also getting a Deed and either a donation letter or prepaid track time. Between the two programs, the Museum raised over $6 million!
In being affiliated with the Museum, we can be much more efficient in ROI and deliverables to our Sponsors – Michelin, Holley Performance Products, and ExxonMobil. This makes it easier for us to be financially viable for the long term.
Q. Although the track of course is open to all makes and models of cars, do you find that a majority of the cars who frequent the track are Corvettes?
A. Not really no, I think we just naturally have a healthy number of Corvettes due to their awesome track behavior and low operating costs. I think it would be a tie between the Corvette, 3 series, and of course Miatas.
Q. Tell us about NCM’s high performance driver education school. What is the format of the school? Does it include in-car instruction only or lead-follow as well? Does it include classroom instruction?
A. The NCM HPDE program is something that has been in operation for about a decade. I have been doing my part since March of last year. Roc Linkov originally started the program and Roc built a great group of loyal folks to both participate as well as volunteer for the program. We operate pretty traditionally for an HPDE in that we do in-car instruction for our novice and intermediate drivers and tend to lean toward a more conservative approach to driver promotions and operating practices. We also incorporate classroom for all skill levels with our longtime classroom instructor Chuck Hawks of the Teen Driving Solutions School. We also do our lunchtime lead follow half speed sessions for folks looking to just see the track or who are in need of some tips to make their at-speed driving that much better.
Q. What are your duties at the track?
A. My title is Track Operations Manager, so on top of spearheading the HPDE Program, it’s my responsibility to make sure that everything from Rescue, Safety, Tow, Medical, Flagging, and Facilities all know when they need to be here and what they need to be doing to ensure all of our customers have a great experience. My background is in technology so I also help with that end as well as the marketing. We operate with a full time staff of 4 so really there isn’t much I don’t have my hand in. The Museum also provides support to the track in areas including accounting, HR and marketing.
Q. How did you come about this position? I know you were previously at NOLA Motorsports Park in New Orleans. Can you tell us about your time there as well? What were your duties? How did you first become employed at tracks?
A. It all started during the construction of NOLA Motorsports Park. I worked for a small technology firm called Paratech and we won the bid to provide the network equipment and service to the track. I ended up spending so much time there that Mitch Wright and Wes Ratcliff hired me full time. I’ve never been one to just do what my specific job duties imply so I ended up helping over the three years I was there in event management, marketing, etc. We put on some really large-scale international events there. The facility is gorgeous and I had the opportunity to work with some incredible people! At the time my wife and I had just had our son and we decided that we needed a change in scenery and Mitch Wright had been with the Museum for a few months at that point. It all kind of fell into place after a few phone calls and an interview, and it’s been one of the most positive experiences of my life.
Q. I know Alan Wilson designed NOLA. I see that, although Wilson did not design NCM, he was hired early on as a consultant to the NCM project. It was determined in those early years that not enough land had yet been purchased in order to build a world class track, which delayed the building of the track. Finally, through the years and with a series of purchases, enough land was acquired and the project was ultimately underway. For Corvette lovers especially and those associated with the museum, this must have been a very exciting time. Do you find that there are people who come for a visit to the museum, but end up trying out a track day as well?
A. Alan Wilson was brought in in the very early stages and at that time the Museum had just starting looking at land. Steve Crawford did the track design, working with Pratt Miller. In the Corvette community specifically, I find that there are people that are tremendously supportive of the facility and its goals, but the track driving just isn’t their thing. We have actually been running a program called the Michelin Track-X, which is kind of a middle ground between autocross and full-blown track driving. Its been really successful and helped get some new folks into the sport. We try to cultivate a culture of accessibility to make it easy for folks to give it a shot.
At the same time we are turning on a lot of folks to the idea of track activity. The biggest hurdle I find is there is a staggering amount of intimidation for someone who has not done anything like this before. I think it’s up to everyone in the industry to do what we can to make it as approachable as possible.
The other aspect to that is Bowling Green holds a few marquee events at the local drag strip such as HotRod Reunion, LS Fest, car club national meets and we have the opportunity to offer those folks a chance to get on to a road course and try something a little different.
Q. Tell us about Aevum Racing, your racing data acquisition company.
A. Yea, it started as a way to incorporate my tech background into racing. I did some acquisition/analysis here and there, but never had the time to really take it too seriously.
Q. Tell us about your personal driving history. When/what age did you start participating in HPDE events? Why did you get started in this hobby?
A. I’ve always been a car guy. I remember watching Formula 1 with my dad when I was really little, and thinking it was the coolest thing in the world. That led me to get my start in karting when I was younger and was fortunate enough to do some formula car stuff later in life. I secretly am trying to get a larger kart series near us here so I can go racing again. All that just evolved into the recreational side when the competition stuff just got too expensive.
Q. Do you instruct? What do you like about instructing?
A. I do here and there, but most of my efforts go into organization now. I love the “ah ha!” moments, where you can feel it in the car when something in your driver just clicks and they start hitting all the right marks. It’s very rewarding. I’m a little unorthodox in my style of teaching. I’m a goofy guy by nature so I try to keep whoever is in the car with me, whether it be for a ride or instructing, loose and comfortable. So I say things in the car that you normally wouldn’t hear. Its all about having fun!
Q. If you could give one piece of advice to someone new to track driving, what would it be?
A. No one is judging you! Everyone at a track day wants you to succeed, learn, and have as much fun as possible. So don’t feel like you have to be Lewis Hamilton to get any enjoyment out of it.
Q. What track car would you recommend and why?
A. Personally, I think a Miata is a great track car. It’s easy on consumables, it’s a blast to drive, and to really get everything out of it, the car just naturally teaches you good habits, momentum is everything! A c5 or c6 are solid choices as well, dependable, easy to drive, and tics some of the good boxes as well.
Q. What was your first track car? What did you like and not like about its performance on the track?
A. I’ve been fortunate enough to drive a ton of cool stuff but the first non kart would’ve been a very tired RX-7. Fun car, best noise to come out of anything mechanical.
Q. What do you currently drive and can you tell us about its performance on the track?
A. Right now I have a 2013 Focus ST. The car is just a blast to drive. Deceptively quick. I love the throttle off oversteer, it definitely punches above its weight.
Q. Any advice for newcomers to the sport and what to expect at their first driving event?
A. Don’t let any amount of intimidation stop you from getting to whatever track is near you. Find out who your instructor is as early as possible and get to know them. You have to be comfortable enough to say, without any hesitation, that you don’t understand or that you are uncomfortable. Communication is the key! Get a good night’s sleep and eat a good breakfast.