So after four street and road courses where rain would be a welcome variable I’m sitting at home watching rain postpone Indy 500 qualifying. One thing I can’t get my mind off of is that the series, the fans, and the drivers really need an oval before Indy.
Don’t get me wrong, I like road and street races, but until recently Indy wasn’t the first oval on the schedule and I feel like the series is really missing having an warm weather oval on the schedule, the problem is there aren’t many available, and NASCAR is sitting on most of them.
Before May NASCAR races at Daytona, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Bristol, California, Martinsville, Texas, Kansas and Richmond, and there’s a limit to how closely a track can host an Indycar and NASCAR race successfully. Of the NASCAR tracks only Phoenix International Raceway has enough time between dates to realistically host two races before May. This year Phoenix will host NASCAR on March 3, and there is an off weekend between Barber and Long beach on April 14. That would put a full six weeks between the NASCAR race and an Indycar race, which means Pheonix is probably the only NASCAR oval that could host an early season race.
There were a series of talks with Phoenix officials and Randy Bernard last year, and the general feeling was they didn’t have enough time to put together a race for 2013 but felt confident about 2014. News about a 2014 Indycar date has gone cold since Randy left office.
Outside of the warm weather tracks NASCAR races at there aren’t many ovals with safer barriers. The only ones I can think of Rockingham Speedway, Nashville Superspeedway and Myrtle Beach Speedway.
Nashville Superspeedway isn’t hosting public events but is safe enough to host testing. I went to the Indycar races at Nashville once or twice and everyone I talked with seemed to be a Firestone employee who got cheap tickets. The weather in Nashville in April is decent, and with hometown hero Josef Newgarden in the series now if all the parties wanted to give it a try Nashville could be a success.
Rockingham Speedway, once shuttered, is back, hosting ARCA and Camping World Truck racing. I lived in the Carolinas for a while and attended a few races at Rockingham Speedway. It’s a great track to watch a race and former driver Andy Hillenburg has done a standout job getting that track back to shape. It has safer barriers and is hosting the truck series on the April 14 weekend. Hillenburg drove several IRL races and there have been reports that the series has approached him about hosting a race there.
As much as I loved Rockingham and would like to see Indycar race there NASCAR left Rockingham for a reason. It’s in the country, a rural part of NASCAR country and they couldn’t sell out for NASCAR races while NASCAR was at its peak. The Rockingham promoters don’t have that deep of pockets and they need to be careful about what kind of projects they take on.
Two other tracks that merit some consideration is Atlanta Motor Speedway and Homestead Motor Speedway. The problem with Homestead is that since they raised the banking to make it more NASCAR friendly it’s not produced good Indycar racing, and hasn’t drawn sizable crowds. With the possibility of a race in nearby Ft. Lauderdale I doubt Homestead will be on the schedule.
Atlanta is intriguing because while it looks like Texas Motor Speedwaythe banking is significantly higher. The speeds would be higher and Indycar has never tested there, to my knowledge. NASCAR used to host two dates at Atlanta and always had trouble selling out the spring race. I live in Atlanta and the problem is two-fold, Georgia’s weather in April and March is unpredictable, and AMS is on the wrong side of town. It’s a trek to get down there, traffic sucks and whenever it rains the park lot turns into a mudbog. Also, I’ve been to Barber every year and the Honda Grand Prix of Alabama draws from the Atlanta market. Having two races in the spring could hurt Barber, and Barber has a fantastic, well established event, so you’re not just risking one failure, you’re risking two.
Myrtle Beach Speedway is a half mile bull ring near the ocean. It’s a resort area, they don’t have a significant NASCAR event, and it supported Nationwide Series races for years. I don’t know if Indycar could race on such a short, flat banked oval, but I think it’s worthy of consideration.
There aren’t any international ovals with safer barriers outside of Japan. Indy used to race at Twin Ring Motegi in April, and that would be a way to race in on Easter and still be in front of the crowd. The problem with Japanese races is that that they start at Midnight on Saturday Eastern Standard Time. While that’s conductive to me watching it live, it doesn’t work so well for most of America, especially on Easter morning.
So there’s no easy solutions. I don’t think there will ever be a huge number of IZOD Indycar races before the Indy 500, but there should be at least one. Hopefully the new regime can make this happen