Later this week, NASCARâ€™s Sprint Cup Series will celebrate Independence Day weekend as it does each year with a 400-mile race at the sportâ€™s signature track, Daytona International Speedway.
For each of the last 12 years, John Power, director of corporate security for International Speedway Corporation (ISC) and Daytona International Speedway, has overseen security at this race, as well as races held at ISCâ€™s 11 other speedways across the nation.
A Daytona Beach police officer for 25 years, Power has been involved with racing security for most of his career. Less than a week before the Coca-Cola 400 race at the Daytona speedway, Power joins SecurityInfoWatch.com for an "At the Frontline" Interview to share his insights and expertise on NASCAR event security and the unique challenges NASCAR races pose.
What are some of the biggest security challenges you face as it relates to a NASCAR event and how do you approach them?
The biggest issues are the numbers of people that we get into our facilities. Several of our facilities hold well over 100,000 people and not all of them are located in area of the country where resources are readily available, which means that weâ€™ve got to hire an extraordinary amount of people and get those people trained for a one or two day show. Thatâ€™s a big challenge for us.
What particular types of security technology do you implement at your racetracks?
I think most of our tracks are using some of the latest technologies. I donâ€™t want to go in to exactly what all those technologies are. We have involvement from the local government, county, state, and even the federal government and the military involved in our events with different types of technology.
How do you handle security for various high-profile individuals who may visit your facilities?
Weâ€™ve handled everything from the President of the United States on down here at Daytona. Obviously, when the president or a high ranking government official travels, they travel with a security team. They all do advance visits and advanced information gathering at the tracks and we typically supplement their needs with local law enforcement.
What kind of security requirements do you have to comply with for NASCAR and what types of challenges does that pose?
NASCAR has minimum requirements for security for their events and our goals are their goals or their goals are our goals, which ever way you want to look at. Certainly there are things that can be accomplished at larger venues or venues with access to more resources than can be accomplished at some smaller places. But with that said, we require that our tracks comply with and meet or exceed the NASCAR minimum requirements.
How would you compare securing a NASCAR racetrack to the venues of other professional sports?
I think there are several big differences. The first is the sheer volume of people that we have. The Super Bowl was held in Jacksonville, Fla., just up the road from us a few years back. That Super Bowl held 84,000 people. Three weeks later, the Daytona 500 here in Daytona Beach had well over 200,000 people in attendance. Major League Baseball plays 162 games in a year; theyâ€™re going to have at least 81 of those that are home games. So all of their staff has got 81 shots each year at learning their roles, learning their jobs, etcetera. The most NASCAR sprint cup races any of our tracks is going to have are two per year, so weâ€™re constantly hiring new people. Weâ€™re required to hire new people.
The typical football or baseball game is going to start at a given time and you know that nine innings later, itâ€™s going to be over and the stadiums donâ€™t typically open but an hour or maybe two before the event starts. With our events, which may start as late as eight oâ€™clock at night or thereafter, weâ€™re opening our gates and weâ€™ve got people on the property 12 hours before the event is scheduled to start. I think our events are just that -- events, as opposed to a game.
The other thing that sets NASCAR apart from baseball and football is the access that our fans have to our stars. As someone before me once said, â€œWe let the fans right into the locker room.â€ You canâ€™t do that in any other sport. Our fans can actually have access to the garages and come up and get an autograph from Dale Earnhardt Jr. or Jeff Gordon or Jimmie Johnson. So thereâ€™s personal contact with the sport of NASCAR.
Have you ever had to deal with a specific threat against one of your facilities and how do handle persons who may be considered obsessed fans or stalkers?
Weâ€™ve had very few of those. Typically, the things we deal with are going to be the individual thatâ€™s maybe a â€˜little off balanceâ€™ and we use every resource that we have available. For me here at Daytona Beach, it would be the Daytona Beach Police Department, the sheriffâ€™s department, the FBI, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Then we make arrangements to ramp up security for whoever the target is based on what we feel the need is or whatâ€™s appropriate.
On occasion, some fans have been displeased with victories by certain NASCAR drivers (i.e. Jeff Gordon and Kyle Busch) and have shown their displeasure by throwing objects, such as beer cans, on the track. What types of measures are in place to curtail those types of actions?
Each of our tracks has a plan for dealing with that and you know we look at the different scenarios. A few weeks ago, Kyle Busch and Dale Earnhardt Jr. had a little run in at Richmond. The following week was at Darlington. We anticipated and put a plan together to counteract anything like that may happen. We moved people and uniformed law enforcement personnel around to act as a deterrent. In the past, when incidents this have happened at our racetracks and weâ€™ve been able to identify the people involved in an incident like throwing beer cans on the track, they have been prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law and banned from buying tickets at any of our 12 racetracks.
Have there been any incidents that have occurred since youâ€™ve been director of corporate security for ISC that stick out in your mind that youâ€™ve had to tackle?
I think the most challenging thing that anyone in security would have to handle is the visit by a President of the United States. I think those are probably the most challenging.
ISC currently owns or operates 12 motor speedways across the country including: Daytona International Speedway in Florida; Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama; Michigan International Speedway outside of Detroit, Mich; Richmond International Raceway in Virginia; California Speedway near Los Angeles, Calif; Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, Kan; Phoenix International Raceway in Arizona; Chicagoland Speedway and Route 66 Raceway near Chicago, Ill; Homestead-Miami Speedway in Florida; Martinsville Speedway in Virginia; Darlington Raceway in South Carolina; and Watkins Glen International in New York.