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.