Why doesn’t IndyCar race on more ovals?

AVONDALE, AZ - APRIL 07: Sebastien Bourdais, the driver of the #18 Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan Honda IndyCar (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
AVONDALE, AZ - APRIL 07: Sebastien Bourdais, the driver of the #18 Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan Honda IndyCar (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /

IndyCar’s heritage may be racing on ovals, but don’t be surprised to see more road and street courses make their way on the schedule.

IndyCar fans had plenty to be excited about when the series announced their 2019 schedule last September. First of all, the championship-deciding race will move to WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, the famed 11-turn, 2.238-mile (3.602-kilometer) road course near beautiful Monterrey, California.

A series staple from 1983 to 2004, Laguna Seca will forever remembered for what race fans simply refer to as “the pass”, Alex Zanardi’s daring maneuver around Bryan Herta in the Corkscrew on the last lap of the 1996 event.

In addition, the series will host its inaugural event at the Circuit of the Americas (COTA). Home of Formula 1’s only stop in the United States, COTA is a 20-turn, 3.427-mile (5.515-kilometer) road course near Austin, Texas.

More from IndyCar

Any IndyCar race at a new facility is a treat for fans, especially one at a world-class facility such as COTA, but the track management revealed another treat they had lined up their sleeves when they announced that two-time Grammy Award winning band Muse will perform a concert at the track during the race weekend.

The addition of both great facilities were excellent steps in the right direction for IndyCar, a series that has made a wide array of moves to bolster interest and prestige. While other racing series have experienced a decline in interest, IndyCar has been fortunate enough to experience both increases in attendance and television ratings.

But for fans who prefer speedways over the road and street courses that make up the majority of the IndyCar schedule, last September’s announcement might have just missed one thing to make it perfect: more ovals.

In addition to no new ovals, ISM Raceway, a four-turn, 1.022-mile (1.645-kilometer) oval in Avondale, Arizona, was noticeably absent from the 2019 schedule. An IndyCar staple from 1964 to 2005, ISM Raceway made a return to the schedule in 2016. Three years later, however, it is absent from the schedule once again.

Some fans might scratch their heads and wonder why a racing series that is centered around arguably the greatest oval race in the world, the Indianapolis 500, would have a tough time maintaining a schedule of successful oval events outside of the Hoosier State.

After all, the sport has a vast heritage of oval racing, so much so that it was one of the factors that inspired former Indianapolis Motor Speedway president and CEO Tony George to form the Indy Racing League in 1994 after expressing a lack of a shared vision of the sport’s future with sanctioning body CART.

But what was successful in the past is not guaranteed success in the future. The controversial split between the IRL and CART created plenty of fallout that has taken years to repair.

Now, a decade after the split, IndyCar is in an upswing. New teams such as Carlin, Harding Steinbrenner Racing and Juncos Racing have entered the series. The series has experienced an increase in television ratings that will likely continue this year with their new, exclusive contract with NBC.

Classic venues such as Road America and Portland International Raceway have also returned with great fanfare, and the street course at Surfer’s Paradise in Australia could return as early as 2020.

It would seem that with the return of old fans once disgruntled by the split and the arrival of new fans that many of them would be flocking to America’s speedways in droves to watch the adrenaline rush that is high-speed, high-stakes open-wheel racing on ovals.

That may have not been the case with the aforementioned ISM Raceway, but that does not necessarily mean that all non-Indy 500 oval races have no chance at success.

The revival of the race at Gateway Motorsports Park in 2017 is an excellent case in point. The stars truly aligned for IndyCar as Gateway not only has an enthusiastic vice president and general manager in Chris Blair, but a committed sponsor in Bommarito Automotive Group, which made a great effort to promote the event and even closed all of their dealerships on race day to allow their employees to attend the race. The fans showed up, too, which is extremely important.

Many fans want IndyCar to have more successful oval races on their schedule, including myself, but fans need to attend and show interest. Promoters and sponsors need to show interest as well. It would be unfair to say that oval racing in IndyCar is in dire straits, as the fine people at Iowa Speedway, Pocono Raceway and Texas Motor Speedway have also done a great job at promoting their events. Hopefully these tracks will continue to be staples of the schedule for years to come.

However, when it comes to finding new markets to enter or re-enter, IndyCar is no different than  the National Football League or Major League Baseball. IndyCar wants to be in markets that draw the largest crowds and make the most money. The MLB’s Montreal Expos didn’t leave for Washington D.C. for no good reason, after all. Right now, some of the healthiest crowds in IndyCar can be found at the road courses. For IndyCar, it’s a no-brainer to pursue more of them.

It is not out of the realm of possibility that IndyCar fans could see a return to classic venues such as ISM Raceway, Michigan International Speedway and many other oval tracks. A number of ovals have even expressed interest in having the series back.

But IndyCar is a business first and must pursue the events that are guaranteed to make the most money. For the time being, perhaps the best course of action that IndyCar fans should take is to attend and support the existing oval events the series currently has to offer.

dark. Next. Top 10 IndyCar drivers of all-time

As long as there is an Indianapolis Motor Speedway, IndyCar will always be racing on ovals. The future is very bright for IndyCar. But for the time being, that future includes more road courses, and there’s nothing wrong with that.