Mike Lanigan had been working with city officials to bring Indy car racing back to Houston since the spring of 2008, and that resolve hits you like a train of the Panama Canal Railway that one of his companies, Mi-Jack Products, co-owns.
Races on a downtown Houston street circuit were held from 1998-2001 and, after a four-year absence, the event was reincarnated on a course as part of the Reliant Park Complex with a two-year run. Now, through considerable effort and patience, IZOD IndyCar Series cars are scheduled to compete at Reliant Park.
The inaugural Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston will take place Oct. 4-6, 2013. The event will be one of the three street courses during the season to host races on both Saturday and Sunday.
Click it: Complete 2013 schedule
“Quite frankly it was a huge success and the city supported it,” said Lanigan, whose company, Mi-Jack Promotions, was the event promoter for the past two races and has resumed that role for the upcoming event. “Reliant Park was supporting it as a partner. Although we lost the opportunity to run it in 2008, we didn’t want to give up. We knew how good a market it is and how the fans and sponsors supported it.”
In 2006 and ‘07, the Grand Prix of Houston had an estimated economic impact of more than $35 million per year to the region and resulted in substantial international exposure. A Local Organizing Committee was established with the intent of identifying a title sponsor to make the Grand Prix’s return possible, and a spot on the 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series calendar was announced March 28 after a multi-year title sponsorship agreement between Shell and Pennzoil and Mi-Jack Promotions was signed.
“Thank goodness we found a great partner in Shell and Pennzoil as our title sponsor and we’re excited to go back racing at Houston,” Lanigan added.
A burly man with a firm handshake, “How ya doin?” persona and eyes that light up when talking about the racing ventures, Lanigan “got caught by the Indianapolis 500” when he was in Indianapolis to start a division of his father’s company, Mi-Jack Construction Equipment, in 1973.
“That’s how it all started,” he said.
Almost 20 years later, his business acumen led Mi-Jack to sponsor a Dale Coyne Racing car for driver Eric Bachelart. In 1997, when Bachelart was seeking sponsorship for his Indy Lights team, Lanigan not only sponsored Conquest Racing, he eventually became a co-owner. That partnership grew into Mi-Jack Conquest Racing to compete in the Indy Racing League and reaped dividends in 2002 with Rookie of the Year Laurent Redon.
The native of Dolton, Ill., also has been co-owner of Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing, and is currently co-owner of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.
That entrepreneurial spirit led Lanigan to form M-Jack Promotions for the 2006 and ’07 race events in Cleveland and Houston.
“We thought it would be a great opportunity to expand our horizons because we’re marketing our own company’s products,” he said. “It would be a great development for us because a lot of the sponsors who sponsor race cars would also sponsor events. We learned a lot over years attending events, and I found it intriguing that we could make it a lot better with some added touches of promoting it properly.
“INDYCAR is growing and we’re all optimistic that things are going to get better and better, and we wanted to be on that bandwagon. We believe that this will be the first step to some other events we can do down the road.
“It is a challenge as racing is a challenge. We do have the stars and cars to put on a good show, but to put on the whole thing in a professional manner, with great presentation and make it a happening that people walk away and say, ‘I want to come back next year,’ and grab the attention of new INDYCAR fans is the goal. This is going to be a very special event, and we want to make it like a Long Beach. There are a lot of sponsors looking at INDYCAR very carefully. Shell and Pennzoil are examples of companies that have said these guys are really getting it together now.”
His father started the business of distributing self-propelled rubber tire gantry cranes 58 years ago, and today it’s a multinational corporation providing machinery and solutions for the transportation and materials handling industries worldwide along with affiliated companies in technology, sales and promotion (and the railway).
“My family and I have been very fortunate to have some successful companies and being involved with racing and the promoting of events keeps us very keen on continually trying to improve and compete with others in our other world,” Lanigan said. “The competition and rewards are keen. It enforces the fact that if you want to be the best you have to earn it, and INDYCAR is that way for sure.
“It’s the most fun thing you can have; it’s what makes the world go around, competition. We’re leading in what businesses we do and there are certainly a lot of synergies between selling a hydraulic crane or racing a car in the Indianapolis 500. To be the best at what you do, and that entails a lot more pieces of a puzzle than you see on the surface. A lot are simple equations like doing it the right way, getting the right people in the right slots, making sure you have the best talent.
“It keeps us on our toes. It’s a challenge like anything else, but it’s a fun challenge and rewarding challenge.”
Indy car race history in Houston (with race winner, team, laps/distance and average speed)
Oct. 4, 1998 – Dario Franchitti (Team KOOL Green)
… 70 laps/106.89 miles … 66.051 mph average speed
Sept. 16, 1999 – Paul Tracy (Team KOOL Green)
… 100 laps/152.7 miles … 78.98 mph abaverage
Oct. 1, 2000 -- Jimmy Vasser (Target Chip Ganassi Racing)
… 100 laps/152.7 miles … 76.626 mph average
Oct. 7, 2001 – Gil de Ferran (Penske Racing)
… 100 laps/152.7 miles … 79.521 mph average
May 13, 2006 – Sebastien Bourdais (Newman/Haas Racing)
... 96 laps/162.24 miles … 81.154 mph average
April 22, 2007 – Sebastien Bourdais (Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing)
… 93 laps/156.519 miles … 88.986 mph average