What Track Will Replace Twin Ring Motegi?
Last week, Randy Bernard struck again – and I mean that in a good way. He mercifully ended the annual trek to the Land of the Rising Sun by announcing that this season’s journey to Twin Ring Motegi would be the last for the IZOD IndyCar Series. The pros simply didn’t come close to outweighing the cons on this one. Other than making Honda happy, there was no real reason to go there. It made little sense.
I know there’s the argument that we live in a global economy and this helps the exposure of the series worldwide. But, I always felt like the series was shooting itself in the foot every time they went there. Most sponsors gained little, if anything, by going there. How many Target stores are in Japan? What about IZOD? What kind of presence do they have in the Asian market? How about Verizon? Do you think Meijer or Venom Energy covets a greater market share in Japan?
Most sponsors got nothing from going to Japan. What about the series itself? It was a logistical nightmare to pack up cars, back-up cars, engines, tires, spare parts, tools, safety vehicles, etc; then load it all up and fly it all halfway around the world a week before the race. Oh, yes – the teams flew their personnel over and housed them. To make things even more difficult; the teams didn’t stay just down the road from the track. The facility is on a mountaintop, and most team members and drivers had to be bussed in from more than an hour away.
All this took place in the fall, when the NFL season had started. A sport that struggles to find its way into the mainstream most of the season, suddenly finds itself racing half a world away, at midnight sandwiched between full days of college and pro football, on a channel no one seems to know they already have. To make this nightmare scenario even more bleak – the racing was generally very boring. This, at a point in the schedule, when even the most die-hard fans are having trouble staying interested. The series also has to block out travel and logistics weekends before and after the midnight affair that no one watches. It begs the question; if you hold a race on another continent and no one sees it on television – did it really happen?
It didn’t take Randy Bernard very long to see that this was a bad situation. Honda has been an excellent partner to the IZOD IndyCar Series, but this was a perk to them that made no sense. Firestone’s parent company, Bridgestone, is also a Japan-based company; but most of the top brass making racing decisions is located right here in Nashville.
Our friend, Pressdog, quickly recognized that this could be a blow to an already depleted number of ovals on the schedule. He correctly points out that this could be a chance for another road or street course to take the slot vacated by Motegi. With yet another street race in Baltimore on the schedule, the trend is to race more on city streets and less on ovals. That’s a disturbing trend if you aren’t a fan of the “twisties”, as Pressdog likes to call street/road courses.
The problem is, with so many ovals in the hands of so few players – it’s tough to find one to replace Motegi with. Every time the potential for a new oval on the schedule comes up, it’s the same tracks that everyone talks about – Phoenix, Michigan and Fontana. Unfortunately, they are all controlled by ISC (read: NASCAR) and they have not really been forthcoming in trying to help our series grow. If they were more willing to work with IndyCar, don’t you think Kansas, Chicago, Homestead or even Watkins Glen would have been on the 2011 schedule?
So if the IZOD IndyCar series wants to pursue another oval track, they’ll either have to strike another deal with Bruton Smith to add another of his SMI tracks to the schedule to join fellow SMI tracks Texas, Kentucky, Las Vegas, New Hampshire and Infineon. Bristol is way too small, but either Atlanta or Charlotte is a possibility. I was living in Charlotte and attended the IndyCar race the night that three spectators were killed, when a tire flew into the turn four stands. For the next few weeks, Humpy Wheeler, The Charlotte Observer and almost the entire city of Charlotte vilified open-wheel racing. Unless things have changed dramatically in the past twelve years, I’m not sure open-wheel racing will ever be welcomed back there; so that leaves Atlanta. I think that’s an iffy proposition at best.
If they didn’t go the SMI route, they may have to look at some of the more obscure ovals around the country. The shuttered Gateway track just east of St. Louis comes to mind. It needs some work and is not in the most scenic locale. I’ve heard Darlington mentioned, but I can’t see that. Rockingham is an interesting idea that might have legs, but the area is very isolated.
Longtime reader, commenter and fellow Nashville resident “John Mc” will beat the drum for Nashville. As much as I’d love to see the series come back to my city, I think the track is a white elephant. The drivers don’t like the concrete surface. The concrete is too rough on the tires and the bumps are too rough on the drivers. It’s way too narrow to produce any passing. Plus, it’s fifty miles from downtown Nashville and is literally located in the middle of nowhere. Like Motegi, the crews have to stay at the closest hotel, which is an hour away. There is no lodging, no restaurants, and no fast food. Nothing. Just farmland and cattle. It is not the best place I can think of. Yet, when the Edmonton race was off of the schedule – Nashville kept surfacing as a viable alternative.
I always enjoyed races at Nazareth, but I don’t even know if that track still exists. Ditto for Pikes Peak. Pocono is always mentioned, but I’ve gone into detail before about why I don’t think that will ever happen.
The series needed to leave Motegi. The resulting dominos falling in the aftermath brings more questions than answers. But I agree with Pressdog, they need to replace an oval with an oval. The question is – which one?