Where is the Next IndyCar Oval?

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One of the themes that came out of last weekend’s IndyCar race at World Wide Technology Raceway was that drivers and fans want more ovals. That was a clear message.

Of course, that has been a clear message for more than a decade – ever since the schedule included more road and street courses than ovals. Fans say they want more ovals, but they don’t always support them. Texas has been hanging by a thread for years. Now there are reports that after the 2023 season, the track could be reconfigured. Will that affect IndyCar? Time will tell. There are rumors out there that even if Texas is on the 2023 IndyCar schedule, that may be the last year.

The crowd at Gateway was definitely down last weekend. Is this a trend, or a combination of unique factors for this year’s race?

I think if you took a poll of which oval fans would most like to see, it would be either Michigan or Milwaukee. Some might say Phoenix, but I think it’ll be a wile before that happens. For a variety of reasons, I don’t think Michigan is coming back anytime in the near future either. They were both ISC tracks, meaning they are now owned directly by NASCAR. The last several races run at both tracks, the crowds were very sparse.

Milwaukee has been getting some buzz about coming back. I’m doubtful it will be on the 2023 IndyCar schedule, but maybe something can happen for 2024. I have heard that the NTT IndyCar Series may do something similar to what they did at Iowa – rent the track and promote the event themselves, and enlist the help of a major sponsor.

My question is, can the Milwaukee Mile and Road America co-exist on the IndyCar schedule? For two decades, the two venues successfully shared space on the IndyCar schedule; but times were different back then. That was almost a generation ago, when motorsport was viewed differently. Milwaukee and Elkhart Lake are about an hour and a half apart, but the two venues are completely different. One track is an oval in an urban setting, while the other is a permanent natural terrain road course in about as rural setting as one could imagine.

But if you live in Chicago or Wisconsin, you may choose to go to one and not the other – and that wouldn’t do either of them any good. I’m not sure about this, but the crowd at Road America this past June looked about as healthy as it has since the series returned in 2016. I would hate to see that diminished by a track just down the road.

When those tracks did coexist, the races were run about three months apart. Milwaukee had its traditional early June date on the weekend after the Indianapolis 500. Road America jumped around from mid-August to mid-September. But that was when the IndyCar season ran into October. Perhaps the only way to spread those races out would be to run one as the season finale.

I enjoyed watching those races at Road America in September, because the leaves were already turning in Wisconsin and it looked cold. Now that I attend Road America each year, I’m not sure I would be as enthusiastic about attending a cold weather race each year.

Some say Richmond could be a possibility for IndyCar’s next oval. If you recall, Richmond’s 3/4 mile oval was slated to return to the IndyCar schedule in 2020 for the first time since 2009. But the event was cancelled in the name of COVID, and we haven’t heard a thing about it since. Word has it that the title sponsor pulled out after the 2020 cancellation. But once again, we are talking about a track owned by NASCAR. However, let’s not forget that Iowa is now owned by NASCAR and its revival was a tremendous success.

Of course, the main reason that the ovals have dwindled from the IndyCar schedule is attendance. Fans say they want ovals, but then they don’t show up. Pocono landed back on the IndyCar schedule in 2013 with great fanfare, for the first time in a quarter-century. The problem is no one went, and Pocono dropped off of the schedule after the 2019 race. I attended three of those races and enjoyed them immensely. But it was almost sad to wander the near empty grounds of that vast facility.

My hope is that Texas stays around and we lose no more ovals for a few years. But if we were to gain one, which do you think it will be?

George Phillips

11 Responses to “Where is the Next IndyCar Oval?”

  1. don c newcomb Says:

    milwaukee or kentucky

  2. Jim in Wilmington Says:

    One track that never gets talked about much is Rockingham. It used to be a staple on the NASCAR schedule and at one time was actually owned by Roger Penske. It’s a 1 1/4 mile moderately banked oval (24 degrees I believe) in the piedmont of North Carolina with good road access to Charlotte, and population centers in North & South Carolina as well as central Virginia. It’s still an active track and entertainment center. Here’s a link to their website: https://rockingham-speedway.com/

    It was a great track in its day with lots of action. Road access wasn’t that great back in the day, but it’s much better now

    Jim

  3. whichever oval gets sponsorship is where.

  4. I would love to attend both Milwaukee and Road America. Milwaukee is fantastic.

  5. James T Suel Says:

    Iam in the more ovals crowd. But you have a good point, people are not showing up. I can’t understand why. I think the cars and the series lend themselves to the road and street courses. Bring Milwaukee back at its traditional spot after Indianapolis 500. Get a sponsor and promote it. St Louis can be saved, it should be a night race. Kentucky is another opportunity. Michigan could also be saved. They all need a sponsor and Indycar needs to get off there ass and fix these cars so they can Race these ovals. Yes iam a old school oval loving racer but this can be done. You have to show people that it will be a race ,not a dam parade.

  6. We attend Texas every year and this year was noticeably down in attendance and there was absolutely no promotion of the event. I would hate to see that event go away but any oval without proper promotion will only get us hard core fans.

  7. Joel Goldfarb Says:

    ISC ownership ruined Phoenix. The track reconfiguration ruined the racing, and Indycar races got zero promotion. Phoenix in general has too many options for sports so it’s a tough market for success. A race would need a huge promotional effort to generate an acceptable crowd. That’s not going to happen with the current track owners.

  8. billytheskink Says:

    Given the smoke around it, Milwaukee will almost certainly be the next oval added, with Indycar playing promoter as in Iowa. This is less of a unique situation for Milwaukee than it is for Iowa, as Milwaukee has long brought in outside promoters for pretty much every series that has raced there.

    I remain surprised to see the door at Richmond (and COTA, for that matter) stay essentially shut after the 2020 cancellations.

    Given that Texas is about to undergo a big grandstand renovation, I expect that the track’s reconfiguration will not happen as soon as 2024… and that when it does it will be a relatively mild alteration (more like Phoenix or the last Texas repave than new Atlanta). I don’t expect the track will become unsuitable for Indycars, but that doesn’t mean the series will remain there (though I hope they do).

    Pipe dream: Indycar racing with Lights and Silver Crown just down the river from Gateway… at the 3/4 mile oval outside of Memphis. I don’t know if it would be a financial success, but I think the racing would be good.

  9. Richmond is too small for IndyCar. Everyone pining for its return doesn’t remember the last race there in 2009. Dixie and Dario both apologized in their postrace interviews for how bad the racing was. Hardly anyone could pass because the cars were (and are) too fast for RIR.

    Milwaukee and New Hampshire are definitely worth considering, as is Michigan, despite its ISC ownership. Remember, MIS has only one NASCAR weekend now. It might behoove them to work with IndyCar to have a second weekend of major league racing. But regardless of which oval is being considered, it needs to following to succeed:

    An enthusiastic and savvy promoter
    A committed sponsor
    A compelling schedule, with ample on-track activity
    Date equity

  10. Richard C Herndon III Says:

    I live in Kentucky and recently drove by the KY Speedway which is sitting there collecting dust. I know it isn’t that far away from IMS but any chance a late season race here could happen? I believe the crowds were pretty good in the past.

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