Is It Too Soon To Look At 2011?

Even though the ball in Times Square dropped the other night to signal the beginning of 2010, it’s not too early for the Izod IndyCar Series to be focusing their attention on 2011. Aside from the obvious hoopla that will be surrounding the 95th running of the Indianapolis 500, which will be celebrating its one hundredth anniversary – some attention needs to be directed toward developing a better schedule for 2011.

When it was announced that the Milwaukee Mile would not be in operation for 2010, the IICS opted to do nothing other than hold an empty spot in the calendar in case the financial situation at the track improved. NASCAR was more proactive. They moved the Nationwide race that had been scheduled for the Milwaukee Mile to one of the hallowed grounds for American open-wheel racing – Road America at Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin.

This will be painful to watch for ANY fan of open-wheel racing, no matter which side of “the split” your allegiance fell into. While I am hopeful that things can somehow be worked out for the Izod IndyCar Series to race again at the Milwaukee Mile in 2011, this series needs to be at Road America – no matter how close in proximity it is to Milwaukee. They may attract the some of the same fans to both venues, but the two tracks are more likely to pull an entirely different demographic to their respective tracks.

Another venue that should be targeted for 2011 is New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Curt Cavin is fond of saying that in order for the IICS to race at a specific venue, they need to be invited. The IICS can’t just show up and decide to race there. Well, in this case the Izod IndyCar Series HAS been invited. Track Executive Vice-President and general Manager, Jerry Gappens made it quite clear that he wanted to run an IRL race there for 2010.

Gappens was with track owner Bruton Smith in Charlotte when the IRL ran there in the late nineties. He knows the New Hampshire market and is quite familiar with open-wheel racing and is quite certain that he could make it work at his 1.058-mile oval track tucked away in Loudon, NH. Oddly enough, as other ovals have dropped off of the IndyCar schedule – the brain trusts at 16th & Georgetown chose not to visit New Hampshire in 2010.

CART began racing at what was then known as New Hampshire International Speedway in 1992. Great champions such as Bobby Rahal, Al Unser, Jr. and Nigel Mansell won CART races in front of large crowds at New Hampshire in the nineties. When the IRL began racing in 1996, New Hampshire International Speedway cast its lot with the fledgling league. Attendance plummeted each year and the IRL ran its last race at New Hampshire in 1998 with Tony Stewart taking the checkered flag. Bruton Smith took complete control of the track prior to the 2008 season and changed the name to New Hampshire Motor Speedway to align it with the other SMI tracks in his portfolio.

The Indy Racing League seems to have a better working relationship with SMI-owned tracks, than it does with the NASCAR affiliated ISC-owned venues. Texas, Sonoma and Kentucky are other SMI owned tracks where the Izod IndyCar Series runs. Charlotte and Las Vegas are other SMI properties that I think should also be on the IICS schedule down the road.

It is perplexing, to say the least, why the IICS chose to pass on New Hampshire. The Northeast region of the country seems to fall in line with the demographics that the IICS covets. With the dearth of oval races on the 2010 schedule and the close proximity to the Boston market, it begs the question – why NOT New Hampshire? I’ve yet to hear or read any explanation whatsoever.

But getting back to the state of Wisconsin…for years, CART ran races at both Milwaukee and Road America and had large crowds at both. I don’t think things have changed dramatically in the upper-Midwest since then. That is a region that is extremely knowledgeable and passionate about open-wheel racing. This is the area where America open-wheel racing has its roots.

NASCAR made the mistake of turning its back on its grassroots fan base in the Deep South in favor of more glamorous markets. While those newer markets (like New Hampshire) are needed to expand and grow the series, the origins and the history of the sport should not be ignored. NASCAR has left many of its die-hard fans in the south feeling alienated and abandoned as it sought greener pastures. The Izod IndyCar Series should learn from NASCAR’s mistake.

Hopefully Jeff Belskus, Terry Angstadt, Brian Barnhart or whoever is now in charge of the league will soon begin thinking about 2011. With the new title sponsorship package with Izod, the ceiling has been raised. In the final year of the Speedway’s Centennial Era and the one hundredth anniversary of the Greatest Spectacle In Racing as the cornerstone; there is great potential for 2011 to be a great year for the IICS. If they can get tracks like Milwaukee, New Hampshire and Road America back on the schedule by then; it can serve as a springboard for the next several years in the new decade. Or they can simply sit, do nothing and roll out the same schedule again this coming August. Let’s hope they don’t choose the latter.

George Phillips

13 Responses to “Is It Too Soon To Look At 2011?”

  1. I agree with much of what you wrote here, George. I am perplexed as well about INdyCar’s decision not to run at NHIS, when they are wanted there; the rumor that I heard was that they were negotiating to have a race in the parking lot of Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass., home of the NFL’s New England Patriots.

    The question I would ask is why should certain tracks be on the schedule? Because CART/ChampCar raced there? (For the record, I was a die-hard CART/ChampCar fan and never paid any real attention to the IRL until the two series became one again, which I feel/felt was absolutely necessary and support wholeheartedly for the benefit of the sport in general, which is what I truly care about. And yes, I do know that many of the venues on the current schedule were former CART/ChampCar venues).

    If a track wants to host a race and can provide the infrastructure to do so-like New Hampshire-then it absolutely needs to be considered. However, to do so simply because CART/ChampCar held a race there is not, in my eyes, reason to justify having a race there.

  2. “NASCAR made the mistake of turning its back on its grassroots fan base in the Deep South in favor of more glamorous markets. While those newer markets (like New Hampshire) are needed to expand and grow the series, the origins and the history of the sport should not be ignored. NASCAR has left many of its die-hard fans in the south feeling alienated and abandoned as it sought greener pastures. The Izod IndyCar Series should learn from NASCAR’s mistake.”

    F1 has done the same as it has ditched popular races at France, US, San Marino for empty grandstands in Bahrain, Singapore, et al. Seems to be a trend across many motorsport territories unfortunately

  3. George,
    I’m with you on New Hampshire. I scratched my head when the IRL seemed cool towards the NHIS “invitation. Like Edward I remember bearing some rumors about the IRL trying to negotiate a street course race in the parking lot of Gillette Stadium. At the time the rumor was that Gillette might be in negotiations for sponsoring the Series. Maybe that was the case, or maybe it was just another internet rumor, but now that it’s clear no street race in a football stadium parking lot is happening, I think the IRL needs to find a way to get New Hampshire on the 2011 schedule. The Northeast market was a traditional supported of Open Wheel, and not being present in that market is just not good business.

    I would also love to see Road America on the schedule if Milwaukee isn’t. A double header weekend at RA with ALMS would be awesome. I’m not sure that Road America has tried courting IndyCar since Champ Car went belly up. Maybe now that the Mile is gone that will change. Hell, if people are willing to show up to watch a bunch Nationwide cars putt around the course, I’m sure they could sell tickets for IndyCar.

    Leigh’s right, both NAPCAR and F1 have been turning their backs on their traditional fan base for years to chase $$$ in foreign markets. Now IndyCar seems to be in danger of repeating the same mistake (Brazil). Let’s hope that changes in 2011.

  4. Steve_P83 Says:

    I really would like to see Road America on the schedule. I’m sort of afraid of how well the racing is going to be at Barber (however, I do plan on being in attendance), so Road America would be a great track if Barber doesn’t work out. I’m not for adding a majority of road courses over ovals though. I really prefer road courses, but I think the current balance towards equal amounts of both type tracks are better for all fans.

  5. The correct answer to the question is, of course, all of the above. New Hampshire needs to be on the schedule for all of the reasons you list: untapped market, track management that actually WANTS IndyCar to come to town, etc. Milwaukee needs to be on the schedule for the one-two punch of tradition that it offers along with Indy and beacuse of the loyal fanbase in that region. Road America needs to be on the schedule because it’s the best road course in America, so any series that road races should absolutely be there. I was there for the last doubleheader weekend that ChampCar did with ALMS in 2007. It was awesome. If IndyCar announced a similar weekend with ALMS for 2011, I’d be online looking for airline tickets, like, this afternoon.

    Here’s hoping for a 2011 schedule with 18-19 races, and all of these three on it.

  6. I think the bigger ‘crime’ is letting the Milwaukee Mile go, particularly in the ‘centennial era’. Okay so there’s not a lot the IRL could’ve done about it, but they did seem awfully quiet about it. Maybe there was stuff going on behind the scenes.. if so I’d prefer to know about that so that we know if there was an attempt to go back, or not.
    And yeah a double at Road America with ALMS would be fantastic. I’d consider making the trip from the UK for that, if it were in 2011. It would be tough to choose between that and Indy for me.

  7. All of ’em ❗ If I only get one vote then its Road America ❗ ❗

  8. My biggest problem is that almost 1/4th of the Indycar races are going to suck, there is no way around it. Montegi, Barber, Mid Ohio, and Infenion will not be good races. Then, through in Edmonton, St Pete, Iowa, which may be very good, but also can be very bad, and then the “brazil” race that may or may not happen, and that’s a big deal.

    • I’ve read about the concerns over Barber (no passing zones) but I think its UNFAIR to say a inaugural race will “suck” before it even runs 💡

      Also, the IRL Mid Ohio double header with the ALMS has hardly “sucked” IMO ❗

      • I agree. It must be the difference between television and being there in person. I have attended Mid Ohio every year for multiple races and it is great in person. Television must not do it justice.

  9. I’ve also heard rumors of a Gillette race. And a street race in Baltimore. Maybe they think a NH race would conflict geographically with those proposed races. The IRL seems to be saying that street courses are more economically viable than ovals.

    Put me in the “all of the above” category. But I think Indynomics is going to have to improve before any of that happens.

  10. It is truly ironic. The league chased Brazilian money to get a chance to put on a parade through the streets of Sao Paulo. Meanwhile the new SERIES SPONSOR is putting up ads in Times Square but there is no oval race anywhere near New England. Tony George must be turning over in his grave – oh wait, he’s not dead yet.

  11. I chose all options too. There is only one superspeedway and one short oval in 17 races. And there isn’t any West Coast oval. Las Vegas should have a fari chance in 2011. But we should worry too that too many races may decrease full-time entries.

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