Feature photo Courtesy of Michigan International Speedway
By Matt Schepeler
If John Spink is a little bit nervous, it is understandable.
Spink is bringing Nite Lites, a drive-through Christmas light show that he started at the Jackson County fairgrounds in 1996, to Michigan International Speedway.
Spink noted that MIS officials actually contacted him about moving his show to the superspeedway’s facility, and said the timing was right for a move.
“We had some issues [with the fairgrounds],” noted Spink. “Over the last couple of years the fairground has brought in dirt for the events during the fair, and that clay just turns the track into mud. If the weather turns warm . . . we had some issues. We won’t have those issues out here. Everything is on blacktop. We have one section that is on ground up black top, but everything else is concrete or blacktop.”
Spink is quick to note that he does not hold any animosity to the old facility, but says it was time for a change.
So why did he get in the light business?
Spink said he remembers as a child driving around different subdivisions to look at Christmas lights. “We realized that you couldn’t do that much anymore, so in 1996 we started the show.”
At the time Spink was working at the fairgrounds as a building and grounds supervisor. “I went to the fair board and said ‘Hey, I want to rent your road.’ No one was using it at the time. The race track (harness raceway) was not using it that late in the year, so they decided ‘Sure, why not?’
That first light show was admittedly short. “It took us about three weeks to set up,” he said. They purchased a few lighting displays commercially, but quickly learned that purchasing pre-made light displays would be prohibitive if they wanted to grow. “They are super expensive. We really couldn’t get much for your dollar, so since that first year we began building and fabricating everything in house.”
“I have an artist that draws plans, and we bend steel rods to the print. We cut it to 8-foot wide sections that bolt together.”
It also takes more than three weeks to put the display together. His crew of volunteers and retirees began setting up the MIS light show in mid-August.
Spink has pumped most of the money he generates right back into the show, and over the years the show has grown.
“So here we are,” said Spink. “A new location, a bigger venue, and a longer drive-through.”
Altogether, the show will be between three to three and a half miles long, with another mile of what Spink describes as a low lighting.
People will enter the light show off of U.S. 12. Nite Lites is much like a lighted maze, and drivers will not have to worry where to go, as it is simple to follow. The show will wind its way around the MIS grounds before eventually exiting on M-50.
“The Winter Wonderland location is going to be at the beginning of the show here,” he said, noting that Winter Wonderland is where people can visit Santa.
Spink said that much of the show is the same, but there are a few new attractions. One is a giant pirate ship, a 60-foot-long and 30-feet-high display dubbed the S.S. Nite Lites.
Spink and his crew are also working on an amazing tunnel that will be lit in sync with music that motorists can tune into on their car radios. The tunnel runs off of five computers.
Of course, Spink will also give a nod to his new host with a special race car display.
While Spink remains hopeful that the display will pull people from out of the area, he is leaving nothing to chance. They will be advertising on radio, in newspapers and social media, hoping to draw people from Toledo, Ann Arbor and other regions. He notes that people will be looking for places to eat and other things to do while they are in the area.
“We are really excited,” he said.