Establish An Independence Day Tradition

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Most know that I’m not an advocate of the IZOD IndyCar Series trying to emulate everything that NASCAR does in an attempt to grow the series. I feel that the two series cater to different types of fan. Sure there are plenty of those that overlap and follow both series, but they should also each try to carve out their own fan base.

Having said that, there are some things that NASCAR does that INDYCAR would be wise to follow. The Indianapolis 500 is synonymous with Memorial Day, but there are no other races tied to any other holidays. NASCAR came up with the World 600 (now known as the Coca-Cola 600) in 1960 in an attempt to rival the more established Indianapolis 500; although the first World 600 didn’t actually run until mid-June, due to construction delays at the brand-new Charlotte Motor Speedway.

In true NASCAR fashion, they had to top the five-hundred miles run at Indianapolis. Although scheduled around Memorial Day, the two races never actually ran on the same day until 1974. Nowadays, there is only about a two-hour window between the end of the Indianapolis 500 and the start of the Coca-Cola 600. Those of us that attend the 500 every year, can choose to watch the local replay of the Indianapolis 500 that evening or the live broadcast of the 600 from Charlotte. Not surprisingly, I choose the 500 every year. Of course, it doesn’t really matter because I generally fall asleep early on anyway.

For years, NASCAR also staged a Labor Day race – the Southern 500 at Darlington. Then a few years ago, someone got the bright idea to move their Labor Day race to Fontana. It did not go over well with their hard-core fans. It apparently wasn’t that big of a hit with Southern California fans either, because NASCAR’s Labor Day race this year is in Atlanta and Fontana’s fall schedule is limited to a mid-September visit by the IZOD IndyCar Series. Throughout the seventies, IndyCar (USAC) tried to establish its own Labor Day tradition by running the California 500 at the now-defunct Ontario Motor Speedway – a virtual clone of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. There were some great races there, but the new clone didn’t have the history of the original and suffered through some tough financial times before falling to the wrecking ball in the early eighties.

The Fourth of July is a different story. That weekend has always belonged to NASCAR, as they unofficially begin the second half of their season at the same track where they kickoff each season – Daytona International Speedway. Since 1959, NASCAR has staged the Firecracker 400 on or around the Fourth of July holiday. Actually, the first three years, the event was the Firecracker 250, but in 1963 the race was expanded to four-hundred miles. To me, what is now known as the Coke Zero 400 has in some ways been a more fun race than the Daytona 500. There are cooler places to visit in July, but I would think attending the Coke Zero 400 would be a blast to attend as a fan. It is something that all NASCAR fans can count on – the Fourth of July Daytona race.

We are currently in the part of the calendar that is sort of a down-time for sports. The NBA and NHL have already crowned their champions. NFL training camps are still almost a month away from starting. There is just not a whole lot going on right now. But there are still a few events you can count on near or around the Fourth of July holiday – Baseballs All-Star game, Wimbledon, the Tour de France and the Coke Zero 400.

I would like to see the IZOD IndyCar Series find a location that will lock in the date around the Fourth of July weekend. Of course, today is Wednesday, which is the one day in the week that it is difficult to determine which weekend the Fourth of July is attached to. Some say it was last weekend, but that was still in June. NASCAR is running their race at Daytona this coming weekend, so I’ll go with that one. Besides, didn’t NASCAR invent the calendar?

In 1992, CART ran at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on July 5th. I remember the ESPN telecast ran with the theme of the area’s ties to the Revolutionary War in all of the promos. I liked the tie-in and thought it could be the start of a nice Independence Day tradition. Apparently, no one else did because the next year, they ran the same race in August.

In more recent years, INDYCAR ran their Fourth of July race at Watkins Glen. That’s not what I would call a hot-spot for Fourth of July partying, but it would do. Sadly, that semi-tradition went away also. Since The Glen came off of the schedule following the 2010 season, the IZOD IndyCar Series has seemingly ignored the Independence Day holiday. Last season, there was no race scheduled over the Fourth of July weekend. This year, the series has chosen to celebrate the holiday weekend away from US soil – north of the border in Toronto.

I have been to Toronto a couple of times, although never during the IndyCar weekend. It is a beautiful and vibrant city and the race there is a great event – so don’t think I’m coming down on our friends that live there. Al least two of my fellow IndyCar bloggers live there – Meesh from So…Here’s What I’m Thinking and Steph from More Front Wing, so I this is not a disparaging remark at all. But, couldn’t a US based racing series campaign an event in this country over the Independence Day weekend?

I know that the skeptics will point out that so few drivers in the series are actually American that it doesn’t matter anymore, but I think it does matter – to the fans, at least. Without the fans, there is no series. Yes, there is a substantial international following; but I don’t think I’m going out on a limb by saying that most fans of the IZOD IndyCar Series are Americans. Just as we travel religiously to the heartland every Memorial Day weekend to watch a race, I think many American fans would budget for and plan some vacation time around a race that took place at the same location every year.

At this time of year, a northern destination would be preferable. I could see a new Independence Day tradition at Road America, Michigan, Pocono or again at New Hampshire. Of course, the common thread among those tracks is that none of those venues are currently on the schedule. I really don’t care if it is a road course or an oval; but get a place on the schedule and lock it in for Independence Day for years to come.

While it is important to expand the boundaries of the series and run some international races, I think this is one weekend during the calendar that the series should stay close to home and build something for the US fans. Continuity at the same location on the same date is the key. If fans know they can count on the same event over the Fourth of July weekend each and every year, many will begin planning around it and make it a regular part of their summer schedule.

I hope everyone has a safe and happy Fourth of July.

George Phillips

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10 Responses to “Establish An Independence Day Tradition”

  1. Blame Canada! Blame Canada!!

    Wasn’t the primary reason given for abandoning Watkins was corporate types didn’t want to go to a race on the 4th of July weekend?

    At some point, Randy Benard needs to make a damn decision and stick with it.

  2. Ron Ford Says:

    There is a nice little story on Speed today that you might enjoy reading. It is about how the traditions of what used to be called the “Firecracker 400″ have changed and not for the better.

  3. The “Great American Holiday,” Memorial Day, is and always has been IndyCar’s. Bruton Smith and NASCAR can differ all that they want, but that is how it is. As for the 4th of July, my traditions are usually poolside or on a boat, but most always near a grill. Everything else is pretty much background.

    Happy 4th of July!!!!

  4. Don’t think a race on the 4th itself would work, for reasons John stated above. As for the weekend before or after, that’s not really a holiday unless it happens to overlap the weekend, so it doesn’t matter.

    If I HAD to stage a race on the 4th of July, I’d do a prime-time street race in Vegas at night. Most of the fireworks shows on tube that night are boring anyway.

  5. SkipinSC Says:

    George,

    I could not agree more. There is a large segment of the population who choose to do some sort of camping advcenture surroundingthe 4th, which, to my mond, lends itself VERY well to a 500 mile race at either Pocono or Michigan, neither of which is in or near a metropolitan area. The one problem with either of these venues is the general lack of hotel accomodations for those fans who feel less like “roughing” it. I have not been to either facility in a number of years, but in both cases, there seemed to be a lack of permanent accomodations, although Michigan is a bit less “middle of nowhere” than Pocono.

    When you add in the potential for Indy Lights, AMLS, and other satellite series, I think you have the potential for something really great. Whichever choice, IndyCar MUST amke a multi year committment to these venues. As we saw with Milwaukee, one shot is not enough. Had not Michael Andretti stepped up and doen his outstanding job of promoting Milwaukee, we’d almost certainly lost that piece of history.

    • Steve K Says:

      Camping, Fireworks, and Racing. I like it. Let’s use the Triple Crown 500 mile idea and have Pocono or MIS for the Fourth (PA), then the other on Labor Day weekend (MI) for the final race of the year. Will people buy tickets?

  6. George, why do you hate Canadians?

    (kidding)

    I always liked the July 4th weekend date at the Glen with Grand Am’s 6 hour race. Seems like it had potential.

    I can understand the issue with getting corporate support. Sad that it seems to be a necessity in this day and age.

    I like Steve K.’s idea about the triple crown. ending the season with a 500 mile race on labor day would be a great tradition.

  7. 为什么你不喜欢乔治 · 中国。我们把种族为中国新的一年的大烟花。在中国餐馆吃。

  8. If it’s strictly on the 4th it has to be a place that will attract attendance, because who’s watching TV on the afternoon or evening of the 4th? If it’s the 4th weekend, I’d love RA, but that’s too close to the Milwaukee Mile. And Pocono is too close to its NASCAR dates. If MIS or NHIS show an interest, jump at it.

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