- change ups
Whitecaps To Do Two
COMSTOCK PARK — For the first time in company history, the Whitecaps actually have two season openers this month.
The Whitecaps Professional Baseball Corp. opens its eighth season of play in the Single A Midwest Baseball League Saturday afternoon in Comstock Park. And, the West Michigan Whitecaps will throw out the first pitch in a park still named after Old Kent Bank — even though that lender has been purchased by Fifth Third.
Then Whitecaps Racing Development will drop the flag on the 51st season of stock car racing at Berlin Raceway in Marne on April 28. The company bought the fabled business last fall from its founders, the Mysliwiec family. Winston Cup driver Johnny Benson Jr., who got his start at Berlin, is a partner in the new entity.
That purchase prompted the Whitecaps to undertake some management changes. Former Whitecaps Baseball General Manager Scott Lane, who has directed the successful baseball operation since its inception, was made president of the racing enterprise, and Jim Jarecki, Lane’s close associate, was promoted to Lane’s old post.
As for adding the racing business to its baseball holding, Whitecaps Managing Partner and CEO Lew Chamberlin said it was a natural thing for the company to do. Although racing doesn’t qualify as a team sports franchise, he sees both as being in the summer entertainment business and will market both to a similar customer group.
“It’s another family entertainment option for this community,” said Chamberlin. “And I’ve always said a community as family-oriented as West Michigan simply can’t have enough family-entertainment options. Certainly, we view the raceway as another one of those.”
Chamberlin said that over the 50-year history of Berlin, the track’s image of being a place for family entertainment may have lost some luster over those years. But he added that image would begin changing back this season, as Whitecaps Racing will market the track in the same manner Whitecaps Baseball goes about its business.
“We’re probably going to be more aggressive in marketing that venue than has ever happened before, and, hopefully, we’re going to add the kind of amenities in terms of concessions, restrooms, safety and sanitation that will make it attractive to a wider base of sports fans than there are there now, ” he said.
The track’s remodeling includes more concession stands, upgrades to the restrooms and a new ticket booth. Repairs will be made to the wall and the catch fence will be improved for safety. Race fans can also expect more promotional activities at the track, like baseball fans get at the park. Raceway tickets are on sale.
Chamberlin said the changes being made to the track should not be interpreted as a slight to the track’s current fans. He pointed out that the raceway’s customers are avid, bright and loyal, and a major reason why his company bought the business. When he toured other short tracks across the country, Chamberlin learned that Berlin was held in high esteem by those in the business and considered a highly successful enterprise with a solid reputation.
“That is essentially because of the great job the Mysliwiec family did running it,” he said. “But also because there is such a deep, abiding and informed interest in this community in stock car racing.”