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Published: Friday, 9/1/2006

Sylvania man s lofty view helps MIS to hum

BY MATT MARKEY
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

BROOKLYN, Mich. From his seat on the top level of the press tower of Michigan International Speedway, Butch Greene can see it all.

He can see most of the 1,400 acres that make up the vast race track property. There is a panoramic view of the tens of thousands of fans, the packed campgrounds, and the eclectic mosh pit of humanity in the infield.

But Greene s attention is focused in tunnel vision on that two-mile D-shaped oval race track, and the activity in and around the 2,229-feet long pit road. When they are racing at MIS, Greene is in the crow s nest, scanning the racing surface and its adjoining pit and garage areas for any noteworthy activity.

The folks who cover NASCAR and Indy Racing League events need a constant stream of information on what is going on, simultaneously, with as many as 43 different teams.

Greene, who lives in Sylvania and works as a materials coordinator for BP Oil in Oregon, where he has been for more than 30 years, often starts that info flowing as the track s official spotter.

Throughout the race, he s up in the tower, radioing down, and letting everyone know what is going on, said MIS director of public relations Bill Janitz. He s the eyes in the sky, and he can see everything from up there. Track officials, race officials, the television broadcast team they all rely on getting that information. It is a critical role on race day.

There are a number of people working the pits, and I let them know which cars are coming in so we can stay on top of what is going on, and any problems the drivers have encountered, Greene said. If a guy has a tire issue, an over-heating problem, or he s losing grip on the track, we need to make that known to the appropriate parties.

Greene first came to the track in the Irish Hills in 1983, initially working in security before joining the team of supplemental help that assists the media and the officials from NASCAR, ARCA and the IRL. The track could not function for its three race weekends each summer without that group.

There s a lot of work that goes on here throughout the year with the full-time staff, planning and preparing for these races, Janitz said. But on those three weekends when the race teams and the fans descend on MIS, it is people like Butch who make it possible for us to stage events of this size.

For Greene, who was born in Kentucky and grew up in Lima, being around racing has been a part of his life for more than four decades. He remembers the drivers he met at MIS being very much like regular guys before the sport s recent explosion.

I never thought racing would get this big, where you have close to 200,000 people at a race, television cameras everywhere, and drivers flying around in their own jets, he said. I knew many of the older guys real well, because they were around a lot. I remember Darrell Waltrip handing me his daughter and asking me to hold her while he did an interview. Leroy Waltrip was a good friend for years. They were very approachable, and easy to talk to.

Greene was working at MIS during most of the quarter-century that racing icon Roger Penske owned the track, and Greene distinctly remembers Penske s attention to getting every minute element just right.

When Roger was here, he was such a stickler for detail, and I liked that, Greene said. I remember when the staff found out Roger would be arriving here the next day, you saw people weed-whacking [by flashlight] the night before, because the boss was coming in.

Janitz said experienced people like Greene give MIS the best staff in the country, in his opinion.

Guys like Butch and the rest of the race weekend staff here, they don t do it for the money, because they re not making big bucks, but they love the sport so much they keep coming back, Janitz said. Butch is here every race, doing his job, and helping make the race come together. It takes a lot of talented individuals to pull this off, and he s one of them.

Contact Matt Markey at: mmarkey@theblade.com or 419-724-6510.



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