New president gears up for second racing season
Jeff Boerger may ride with the big guys, but at heart he's a Kansan, born and bred.
Boerger, 37, the newly appointed president of Kansas Speedway, grew up in Kansas and attended his freshman and sophomore years at Kansas State University, then transferred to the University of Kansas, where he graduated in 1988 with a bachelor's degree in fine arts.
Nine years later, when Boerger was working for the Kansas City Area Development Council, he met Grant Lynch, president of the International Speedway Corporation, Daytona.
Even though Boerger preferred KU basketball and K-State football to car racing, he and Lynch quickly found a common interest pheasant hunting.
"Grant and I hit it off," Boerger said. "He's a big outdoorsman and I'm a big outdoorsman."
Despite his lack of a motor sports background, after the Kansas City metropolitan area won the speedway bid, Boerger signed on as the track's chief of operations.
He was ready to learn.
"Obviously with the background I've had in economic development, I didn't know a lot about the construction end of building a facility," Boerger said. "So it was learning from A to Z on construction issues."
And that's what makes him happy now.
"Here I sit today I've seen the whole process from the beginning to the end product."
The first step which was land acquisition was the most difficult phase of his work, Boerger said.
"Obviously it was a hard decision," Boerger said. "A lot of those people had lived there for 30 years they didn't want to move."
However, Boerger added, it was good for the community.
"After negotiating and talking to them, they finally realized that those folks were well-compensated for the property," Boerger said. "And in return, look at the economic growth out by the Speedway with Cabela's and Nebraska Furniture Mart. That's what's satisfactory is that we're creating wealth within this community."
Cabela's is expected to open in August, and Nebraska Furniture Mart in the spring of 2003, Boerger said.
Those businesses, and others, including a movie theater, Great Wolf Lodge, an outdoor mall and restaurants, will add 1.3 million square feet of retail space to western Wyandotte County.
"As we expand, it's estimated that from three to five million people are going to be coming to this area annually," Boerger said.
The Kansas Speedway's inaugural year was a success, Boerger said.
"Absolutely, and it's due to our employees," Boerger said. "We have outstanding employees here and I'd put our staff up against any racetrack in the country, or any stadium in the country and we'd beat them hands down."
But Boerger wants the 2002 racing season, which will include seven major races on three weekends, to be even better.
"This year we're looking for ways we can improve parking and security to make sure folks get in here safely," Boerger said.
And, he said, fans should have an easier time leaving the race.
"Instead of getting them out of here in two hours, which was phenomenal, let's get them out of here in an hour," he said.
Since signing on with the Speedway, Boerger has become more interested in motor sports.
"I have become a race fan," he said. "But it's not to the point where I have to be down there watching their races because obviously I don't have time."
Prospective employees generally have better luck getting hired if they're not avid race fans, he added.
"We try not to hire fans," Boerger said. "We don't want them watching the races we want them working."
Part of the thrill of motor sports, he said, is that it draws nationally known drivers.
"When you go to a football or basketball game, you don't always get to see a winner," Boerger said. "But when you go to a major race, an IRL, you get to see all the stars in one place."
Boerger summed up his years with the Speedway:
"It's been a heck of a ride for the last four years. I plan to be here many more."