Count Me In For NOLA
Last weekend, word leaked out that Randy Bernard was involved in discussions to take the IZOD IndyCar Series to a new track that, quite frankly, I had never heard of – NOLA Motorsports Park, located just southwest of New Orleans. In fact, there is a possibility that the track may host the IndyCar season opener for 2013. For those not familiar with the New Orleans area, NOLA is the common acronym used locally to denote New Orleans, LA. (N.O.L.A. – get it?)
As it turns out, there is a brand new facility being built in Avondale, LA – only about fifteen miles from the French Quarter. NOLA Motorsports Park is set to open for major events this fall when they host an AMA Pro-Road Racing motorcycle race the weekend of October 7th. When finished, the venue will have become quite a showplace and versatile motorsports facility. There will be two separate tracks adjacent to each other. The first to be completed will be the North Course – a 2.75 mile, sixteen turn course. The second course still under construction is the south course, which will be 2.8 miles in length with thirteen turns. Both of these courses will be able to be combined for up to 5.5 miles in length – a mile and a half longer than Road America.
NOLA Motorsports Park was designed by Alan Wilson – the man who designed Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama. Wilson is the husband of Desiré Wilson, who was a former IndyCar driver. Wilson actually tried to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 three times between 1982 and 1984, missing the race each time. She had only one start in CART – finishing thirteenth at Phoenix in 1983, but she was still an accomplished driver in her day.
Randy Bernard is anxious to open next season at NOLA, trying to capitalize on the local excitement of Super Bowl XLVII, which will be played on Sunday Feb 3. Mardi Gras will take place barely a week after the Super Bowl. I’m not sure I understand the logic of riding the wave of the Super Bowl, but Randy Bernard is a lot smarter about such things than I am so I’ll defer to his judgment.
I can tell you right now that if there is a race in New Orleans next season, Susan and I will be there – no matter where it ends up on the schedule. For the past several seasons, I’ve made two races per year. First it was Nashville and Indianapolis. Then, Barber replaced Nashville on my personal schedule. Susan and I have decided that next year, we plan to make at least three races and possibly four. Barber and Indianapolis are fixtures, but we’re undecided on our other destinations. If this race happens, that will carve one slot in stone for us.
New Orleans is one of my favorite cities to visit. I cannot count how many times I’ve been to the Crescent City, but it’s been a lot. I’ve been there as a kid with my parents, as a single young adult following my Vols to the 1985 Sugar Bowl, as a married couple escaping young kids for the weekend and most recently – on trips there within the last ten years, although I haven’t been there since Katrina hit in 2005.
The one thing I always say about New Orleans is that I’m always very happy to get there and I am always equally excited to leave. Three to four nights at a time is about all I can take. Most nights have all been spent in the fabled French Quarter, but I once stayed in the calmer Garden District which made me feel a little separated from everything. The entire city is so different from any other US city you’ll visit. It’s almost like visiting a foreign country – for the right and wrong reasons. The culture is so different from anywhere else that you’ll never be bored, but the smell of the streets being hosed down every morning is something you’ll never forget.
Those that know me know that other than IndyCar racing, my favorite passion is eating. Most people think of the plethora of adult beverages they can consume in New Orleans. While I’ll have my share of that, when I think of New Orleans I mostly think of the food. It’s phenomenal! Most restaurants outside of Louisiana think that in order to serve authentic Cajun or Creole cooking, you just need to throw in a lot of tobasco. The more you put in, the more authentic the dish is, right? Wrong. Granted, there is a little spice to New Orleans cuisine, but it is much more than that. The blending of favors in that area is like nothing I’ve ever seen anywhere else. While I like gumbo, my favorite dishes down there include turtle soup, Oysters Bienville and crawfish etouffee. My mouth is watering as I type.
This isn’t a food blog, so back to racing. The track may not be the best for IndyCars. The width varies from forty to a maximum of fifty feet, which is quite narrow. Based on the track map available on their website, I’m not sure that there will be a surplus of passing. But as Curt Cavin pointed out the other day, Barber didn’t offer many passing opportunities in the first couple of races held there, but this year’s race was one of the best of the season. One thing you can be assured of – there will be little, if any, elevation changes at this course. New Orleans actually sits below sea level and the entire area is extremely flat.
Given this information, I’m not sure that a season-opening race at NOLA will translate to “must see TV”, but for an on-site spectator – the whole weekend could be a blast. This is a city that knows how to host a sporting event. With a backdrop of fun, food and frivolity – it promises to be an unforgettable racing weekend for those that go. Count me in.