Matt Becherer, the president of Homestead-Miami Speedway, has spent a lifetime — since he was a young child — watching and enjoying cars speeding around race tracks.
“When I was 8 years old, I was going from track to track to watch races with my dad,” he said. “All my friends were going to baseball and football games, but I could not get enough of racing.”
So much so that as a kid he once sneaked into Michigan International Speedway.
Becherer had a passion for racing back then and, much like the cars he sees every day, that passion has not slowed down.
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So, as an adult and executive in the racing industry, no wonder Becherer eventually yielded to a vision that had been in his mind for a long, long time.
That was to actually drive on a NASCAR track — in this case, the track being Homestead-Miami Speedway.
“Wanted to blow off some steam,” he said with a laugh of his venture of being the only car on the track. Once on the surface and with his foot on the pedal, he showed considerable restraint.
“I ran the car straight down the middle,” he said, “and never up on the curves. And I was definitely not in a race car … went out there in a street car. I was very careful. I did not go at nearly the speed of the real drivers, and I stayed clear of the banking.
“The real drivers go up high on the turn, and they can stick their hand out and touch the wall if they wanted.”
No touching the wall — neither his hand nor his car — for Becherer during his improvised drive.
The course record for a lap at Homestead was posted by Jamie McMurray, who mashed the accelerator in 2003 qualifying for an average speed of 181.11 mph. For Becherer, he was happy to reach 100 mph during his jaunt onto the track.
“I’m pretty sure I made it up to 100 mph,” Becherer said somewhat proudly of his sneak visit on the track.
Obviously, there were no other cars inches from him threatening to give him a little bump or nudge. When he was done, all his bumpers remained undented, as was his ego.
Becherer summed up the experience: “It sure was fun.”
Becherer knows many — probably all — the drivers on the NASCAR circuit, although some more than others.
So, who does Becherer like to win Sunday’s Sprint Cup season series championship, the grand prize for the NASCAR year?
Becherer just laughed, and rightfully so, at that question and offered up the expected politically correct answer: “I have a ton of admiration and respect for all of them.”
He knows he can’t favor or predict a winner in a race that he runs, although he is quick to point out that growing up, and fittingly some of that growing up occurred in the Motor City of Detroit, he was a “longtime fan of Roger Penske.”
Becherer said the track is “completely ready” for this weekend’s races.
“We could have run it a few days ago,” he added.
Among drivers, Homestead is one of the favorite venues on the NASCAR circuit.
“It’s a true oval and not a tri-oval,” Becherer explained. “The turns have variable banking [18 to 20 degrees], so that means there is not much advantage to what lane you are in. It is an equalizer, and the cars are quick wherever they are on the track.
“The best driver usually wins here, and the drivers seem to like the fact they determine their own fate and destiny.”
Getting the track ready is a year-round project for Becherer and his crew at the Speedway.
“To give you an example,” Becherer said, “we have already started working for a couple of months on the 2017 race, although right now we’re concentrating on the final details for this weekend’s race.”
Becherer will be watching proudly as fans pour into the track on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
“It’s a unique experience for a sports fan,” he said, “particularly the first time they experience it. It’s different from other sports events. Fans can bring in their own food and drinks, they can go outside the track area and walk back in. It’s friendly, and there are all sorts of other things going on. The nice thing about this event is that so many things happen outside of the track.”
Those extra events, to name a few, include concerts, opportunities to meet drivers, a fishing tournament, race cars on display, kids being able to ask questions to famous drivers such as Jimmie Johnson and the ability to camp overnight within walking distance of the track.
However, there is one thing Becherer dreads about the event — that’s when it ends.
“The day after this event, I want to cry,” he said. “It’s depressing for me, and it’s like one of the worst days of the year. It’s like the day after Christmas. When you come to the track the next day, most everything is already broken down and much of the stuff is gone.
With that said, Becherer turned to an optimistic thought:
“I wish we could put on these races every weekend of the year,” he said.