Bickmeier races into town as RIR’s new president

A few hours after arriving in Richmond for the first time in his life, Dennis Bickmeier did what you might expect the president of Richmond International Raceway to do.

He went for a two-and-a-half hour drive.

A typical Sprint Cup race at RIR lasts a little longer, but Bickmeier wasn't spinning laps around the three-quarter-mile track over which he now presides. Rather, he was venturing around the region by himself, taking his first glimpse of his new home.

"It's been quite a couple of days," Bickmeier told a group of reporters during a gathering at RIR Friday. "It has been overwhelming but in a very good, positive way."

Tuesday, Bickmeier reported to work in Brooklyn, Mich., where he served as the vice president of consumer sales and marketing for Michigan International Speedway – a position he had held since 2007.

By that evening, he'd received word from International Speedway Corporation (ISC) that he'd be heading to Richmond to take over for RIR President Doug Fritz, whose curious resignation was announced by the track the following afternoon. (Fritz had resigned "to pursue other career opportunities," according to a press release, though associates seemed unaware of his plans. On the morning the change was announced, Fritz had attended a Greater Richmond Chamber of Commerce meeting as a representative of RIR.)

ISC owns 12 NASCAR tracks, and Bickmeier was one of several vice presidents in the company being groomed for eventual roles as track presidents. Asked if he had gone through an interview process for the RIR job, or whether he was simply offered the position or told that it would be his next assignment, Bickmeier said with a smile, "I'd like to think that I've been interviewing for it the last 10 years."

Though he acknowledged his eventual desire to become a president, he said he would have been content had the opportunity not come for another 10 years.

With questions about Fritz's departure lingering, Bickmeier said he was only looking forward, not backward.

"I look forward to being a great cheerleader" for RIR, Greater Richmond and the state of Virginia, Bickmeier said Friday. "Hopefully I can add some energy. This place has a great history and great tradition, and we're going to continue to build on that."

During his 90-minute session with print and broadcast reporters Friday, Bickmeier focused repeatedly on his desire to provide an entertaining, affordable experience at RIR for fans. Though it's important to attract new fans, he said he would focus significant energy on maintaining and improving relationships with existing RIR ticket-holders.

"If we don't meet that demand, they're not coming back," he said. At Michigan, Bickmeier and his staff made extensive use of fan surveys and focus groups. He said whatever RIR officials have done in those areas in the past, "we're going to do it times ten" in the future.

Among other issues he discussed:

• the need to improve the fan experience at the track, perhaps by providing more access to drivers, in-race scanners and race viewers;

• the idea of marketing the sport and its nuances more effectively to fans – especially casual fans who may not understand typical strategies employed by drivers and their teams;

• the possibility of providing tickets to military members, veterans, senior citizens and other groups through sponsorships with local businesses. (Bickmeier said he had no intention of giving away free or discounted tickets to such groups, because doing so threatens to alienate season-ticket holders who pay a higher price for their seats).

Bickmeier acknowledged that the timing of his appointment – nine weeks before RIR's signature race Sept. 10 – would make for some interesting – and long – days. That race is the final NASCAR Sprint Cup event before the series' 10-race "Chase," NASCAR's version of playoffs. It's become RIR's calling card, an event that resonates nationally with NASCAR fans who tune in to see which drivers will make the Chase.

He told reporters Friday that in the weeks between now and then, he plans to learn as much as possible about the track, the Richmond region and Virginia. He joked that he'd do his best to stay out of the way of RIR staffers who have been preparing for the September race weekend for months.

"I came here with a blank notebook, but I'm filling it up quickly," he said.

While at Michigan, Bickmeier oversaw MIS's individual and group ticket sales to the general public as well as corporate sponsors and other businesses. He arrives at RIR at a time when the track is experiencing a downswing in attendance – much like many other tracks. (RIR's streak of consecutive Sprint Cup sellouts ended at 33 in September 2008.)

He said he was anxious to work on plans to attract more fans and said he planned to meet with local business leaders to seek their support. He also intends to meet with Virginia Tourism Corporation officials in an attempt to heighten marketing efforts that involve RIR and NASCAR. The fact that Virginia hosts four NASCAR Sprint Cup races each year (including two in Martinsville) should lend itself to such promotion, he said. An effort at MIS involving Michigan tourism officials produced strong results and publicity there, he said.

Though he assumed the job immediately, Bickmeier won't arrive at RIR full-time until late August or early September, he said.



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Eyes in the sky


Members of the Henrico Citizens Police Academy Alumni (pictured) got a rare peek at the “high” side of law enforcement recently, with a trip to the Metro Aviation Hangar adjacent to Richmond International Airport.

About 25 academy alumni gathered at the hangar July 11 to hear Officer Shaun McCarthy describe a typical day aloft - and some not so typical – in a Cessna owned by the Metro Aviation Unit. > Read more.

Rock on!


The painted rocks craze is thriving in Henrico, as a walk around the grounds of local libraries and parks will demonstrate. This rock was spotted near Libbie Mill Library, and there's a slideshow of many more uniquely-painted stones on the RVA Rocks Facebook page (https://facebook.com/groups/RVARocks/).

Painting and hiding rocks is a family activity appropriate for all ages, and parents especially like the way it fosters creativity and gets kids outdoors. > Read more.

Goochland man arrested at RIC with gun


A Goochland County man was arrested at Richmond International Airport July 19 after Transportation Security Administration officers found a loaded semi-automatic handgun in the traveler’s carry-on bag.

A TSA officer detected the 9 mm caliber handgun inside the man’s carry-on bag as it entered the security checkpoint X-ray machine. The handgun was loaded with 12 bullets. > Read more.

Kansas man struck, killed while crossing West Broad Street

A 54-year-old Kansas man was struck and killed by a car while attempting to cross West Broad Street near Bethlehem Road in the Near West End at about 10:30 p.m., July 19.

Julius A. McBride of Overland Park, Kansas, was struck by a car traveling east on West Broad Street. > Read more.

Henrico Police warn citizens to ‘Take it, Lock it or Lose it’


Eastern parts of Henrico County have witnessed a recent increase in larceny from automobiles, so Henrico Police officials are spreading the word to encourage citizens to lock their vehicles.

Police are handing out and posting fliers and putting message boards in neighborhoods to educate residents.

There usually is a rise of larceny from automobiles during Christmas, spring and summer break, said Henrico Police Officer James Bupp. > Read more.

Henrico Business Bulletin Board

July 2017
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The Richmond West Breakfast Lions Club meets the second and fourth Mondays of each month from 7 a.m. to 8 a.m. at the E. Bruce Heilman Dining Center at the University of Richmond. Each meeting features breakfast and an interesting speaker. For details, call Pete Sizemore at 288-0999. Full text

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