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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New GRASP scholarships to aide winners with college debt and costs


Fifteen Henrico County Public Schools students recently received a “2+2” scholarship from the non-profit organization GRASP (GReat Aspirations Scholarship Program, Inc.). In total, the newly created scholarships will help 71 students receive their baccalaureate degrees from a Virginia college or university with lower costs and less student debt.

The scholarship awards each winner $1,000 for his or her first year at a community college to cover the costs not covered by financial aid, such as books and computers. > Read more.

Long & Foster’s Innsbrook, Short Pump offices participate in community service day event


Thousands of real estate agents and employees with Long & Foster Real Estate, including those at the Innsbrook and Short Pump offices in Glen Allen, Virginia, took part in the company’s 20th annual Community Service Day June 7.

The Innsbrook and Short Pump offices chose to volunteer with Housing Families First on June 7. The organization’s mission provides families experiencing homelessness with what they need to move to a stable housing situation. > Read more.

Network of Enterprising Women to award scholarships to local HS grads

Three recent Henrico County high school graduates are among the 10 local students who will receive scholarships from the Network of Enterprising Women during the organization's monthly luncheon July 6. > Read more.

Crime Stoppers’ Crime of the Week – June 26, 2017


Richmond detectives need the public’s help to identify the vehicle and suspects in the shooting incident of a 7-year-old boy and an adult male. Can you help Crime Stoppers solve this latest shooting?

The shooting occurred in the 1500 block of North 22nd Street in the Fairmount neighborhood of the city. Officers arrived and found the two victims near a bus stop. > Read more.

Richmond Montessori School earns VAIS reaccreditation


Richmond Montessori School, an independent Montessori school for children ages 2 to 14, recently earned reaccreditation from the Virginia Association of Independent Schools. The VAIS accreditation program is one of only a few recognized at the national level through the National Association of Independent School's Commission on Accreditation and is also recognized and approved by the Virginia Board of Education through the Virginia Council for Private Education. > Read more.

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On the Air Radio Players will present “You Heard It Here First” June 13-14 from 7:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at The Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen, 2880 Mountain Rd. This old-time radio show features live music and sound effects. The performance will once again feature the winners from the seventh annual radio scriptwriting competition. Admission is free and open to the public; no reservations required. For details, call 501-5138 or visit http://www.otarp.com. Full text

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