With 37 years of service, Dean Kurtz is one of Daytona International Speedway’s longest tenured employees.
Interestingly enough, service, specifically guest service, is exactly what’s kept Kurtz around for a distinguished four-decade career.
If you’ve ever been to Daytona International Speedway for an event, you’ve had a first-hand experience of Dean’s “Fans R 1st @ Daytona” approach to an event weekend.
“Whatever they need, we’re right there throughout their time with us,” he explained.
And they truly are. From the parking attendant you first meet when you come into the parking lot to the ticket scanner at the entry gates and Fan Crew roaming throughout the stadium, Kurtz’s employees play a significant role in guests' interactions with Daytona International Speedway.
“Guest services is all about the front door,” he stated. “It's the first person you're meeting through the last person saying goodbye to you at the end of the day. It’s of such high importance to provide a welcoming and helpful attitude. I’m extremely proud of how our all Speedway team members have adopted and practice caring for our Guests.”
In fact, the care for guests doesn’t end when the checkered flag waves or even when every car has returned home safety.
“At the end of it all, we survey them on their entire experience,” he said.
Guests are also given an opportunity to speak on topics that their survey didn’t touch.
“We take those statements down verbatim and assign them out to the appropriate department,” said Dean. If the guest asks us to contact them, we make sure to call them to follow up. It's important the guest knows that we are hearing them.
The quote “If it is to be, it’s up to me,” hangs on Kurtz’s wall. This “take the bull by the horns” sentiment captures exactly how the DAYTONA veteran has handled his time at the “World Center of Racing.”
It’s easy to see how these words of wisdom have guided him throughout his time with Daytona International Speedway as the guest services department has seen several major expansions and upgrades during his time.
In fact, when he became DAYTONA’s Chief Guest Services Officer, the famed Speedway didn’t have a guest services department so Kurtz had to get creative.
“I was given the little pieces of guest services that existed all over the board in other departments and collectively brought them together into one department,” he explained.
In addition, training programs were created in which all event staff were provided information to help understand things like organizational goals and mindset.
“Event staff attend training sessions where they are prepped on everything DAYTONA so they can troubleshoot really any problem they are confronted with,” he said.
But no matter the progress that has been made, guest services is an ever-changing world.
“Technology has been a game-changer for us,” he said.” There was a day in time where if you needed help you yelled ‘Help!”. Now, you can just text help and it goes right to the dispatch center.”
Technology certainly played a massive role in Kurtz and his team’s preparation to enhance the guest experience for events in the new stadium. In particular, it helped most with their biggest challenge – communication.
“With the stadium, it was a whole new ballgame; a completely different beast,” he said. “People had been coming here for decades and knew how to get here, get to their seat and navigate the property like it as the back of their hand.”
Necessary information is funneled directly to fans in a variety of new and exciting ways. The stadium includes 18 guest service booths – each enabled with an Fan Crew member, iPad, online lost and found program – along with hundreds of charging stations, an essential mobile app featuring step-by-step navigation, 1600+ television screens and Wi-Fi capability throughout the concourses, camping grounds, FANZONE and Midway.
Though the survey results have been in since early April, the overwhelmingly glowing reviews during Speedweeks 2016 still make Kurtz proud.
“Obviously, we’re not where we ultimately want to be,” he stated. “We’re trying to get better each day, but it was very rewarding and encouraging to see how many people had a positive experience with the new stadium.”
It’s clear that the days of climbing stairs, walking to facilities’ single guest services booth and maneuvering through tight concourses are over.
“The vertical transportation of 40 new escalators and 17 elevators, plus the wide concourses they take you to, really are something to experience,” said Kurtz.
“My goal was to do what we've done,” he began. “That was to build a strong team dedicated to providing the services guests need on property during event days in order to give them the best possible race day experience.”
With the guest services experience having been brought to life at Daytona International Speedway, among so many other milestones he’s accomplished, 2017 will serve as a bittersweet year as Kurtz has announced that he will retire following the Coke Zero 400 Powered By Coca-Cola.
“I love motorsports,” he said. “I love helping people. I've been able to put both together into a career. That's been my driving force. I’ve really enjoyed the opportunity to do things that I like to do.”
After spending a life seeing to the needs of others it’s not surprising why Kurtz is stepping away and what he plans to do with a suddenly open schedule.
“The decision has a lot to do with being able to spend time with my family. I also want to be able to devote myself more fully to this community and those in it.”
Asked if he has any parting advice for fans and employees alike, who will continue to enjoy the world’s only motorsports stadium for years to come, he said, “I always tell our people, ‘When you’re here, pretend that this is your home. In whatever you’re doing ask yourself, what would I do in my own home?’”
As far as anyone is concerned, this is and always will be Dean’s home too.