The Rapid Rise And Fall Of PPIR

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Welcome to…Denver, Colorado! I don’t travel very often with my day job. I did spend the week of this year’s Indianapolis 500 in Atlanta at a conference with several co-workers; but this week, I flew out to a conference that I am attending by myself – and that’s very rare. Oh well, it’s cooler than Nashville, the scenery is beautiful and I am eating very well. Too well, as a matter of fact.

I get free time in the late afternoon and evenings. If I had a car, I’d like to go about eighty-five miles to the south of me and see what is left of Pike’s Peak International Raceway in Fountain, CO.

The late nineties and early 2000’s saw a boom in oval race track building. Fontana, Homestead, Walt Disney World, Pike’s Peak, Las Vegas, Texas, Kansas, Chicagoland, Kentucky and Nashville all opened within six years of each other. That’s ten oval tracks that opened between November of 1995 (Homestead) and July of 2001 (Chicagoland). I can think of only one permanent facility where the Verizon IndyCar Series has raced that has opened since then and that is Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, which opened in 2003.

With so many new ovals added to a healthy collection of oval tracks around the country, it’s no wonder that some of them have fallen on hard times.

Walt Disney World Speedway closed to major racing events after the 2000 season. It was demolished last fall to make way for a new parking lot near the Magic Kingdom.

Nashville Superspeedway opened in April of 2001. Eight IndyCar races were contested on the 1.33 mile concrete tri-oval, before IndyCar left the Music City after the 2008 race. The track surface and narrow racing was only part of the problem. The track is located forty miles from downtown Nashville. Not only was it a long way for spectators, there were no nearby hotels for teams or out of town visitors to stay in. The track closed following the 2011 season and was put up for sale. A local outfit made a half-hearted attempt at buying the track, but it eventually fell through and was put back on the open market about a year ago.

Then, there is Pike’s Peak International Raceway (PPIR), which opened in 1997. It was billed as “the fastest one-mile oval anywhere”. It was a D-shaped oval with 10-degrees of banking. Some of the major racing series that raced at PPIR were what was then the NASCAR Truck Series, The NASCAR Busch Series and IndyCar.

The first IndyCar (IRL) race held at Pikes Peak took place on June 29, 1997 and was won by Tony Stewart. There were no repeat IndyCar winners at PPIR, but the list of winners are pretty much a who’s who of IndyCar drivers – even for their day in the late nineties. Aside from Stewart, PPIR IndyCar winners included Kenny Bräck, Greg Ray, Eddie Cheever, Buddy Lazier, Gil de Ferran, Scott Dixon, Dario Franchitti and Dan Wheldon. Every one of those drivers won the Indianapolis 500, the IndyCar championship or both.

But following the 2005 season, Pike’s Peak International Raceway was sold to International Speedway Corporation (ISC), which is a subsidiary of NASCAR. ISC chose to shut the track down and if I’m not mistaken – they even went so far as to dismantle the grandstands. Many were afraid that PPIR was to suffer the same fate as Nazareth Speedway, which has now been reduced to an absolute eyesore.

But in 2008, a group known as PPIR, LLC bought the track from ISC with a non-compete clause – meaning that they could not allow similar competition that competed at other ISC tracks to compete there. That eliminates the possibility of the Xfinity Series or the Verizon IndyCar Series ever racing there.

PPIR will live on, but in the form of a club track for SCCA and the like. It also is the site of driving schools and the Richard Petty Driving Experience. While major racing appears to be gone for good from PPIR, the facility hosts about two-hundred events per year and stays very busy.

It’s crazy to think what all has happened in less than twenty years. Pike’s Peak International Raceway has opened to major racing events, closed for three years and has now been reinvented into a club track – all in the span of less than two decades. But it now seems to have found its niche.

Nashville Superspeedway has now been shuttered for almost five years. I wonder what its fate holds.

George Phillips

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15 Responses to “The Rapid Rise And Fall Of PPIR”

  1. Jim in Wilmington Says:

    PPIR was the site of one of the most fantastic races I ever watched on TV. It was a USAC Silver Crown race in I think 1997 and I watched Mike Bliss come from the back and carve his way all the way to the front. He pretty well used up his tires in doing so (you don’t have pit stops to change tires in the Silver Crown series; the rules don’t prohibit it, but if you stop and no one else does, your day is done) so the last few laps were very interesting as he held off several other contenders. The place seemed to promote that kind of racing and I was very sad to see it go.

    Jim in Wilmington

    • Chris Lukens Says:

      I was there. The Midget race was incredibly good too. Silver Crown cars are ( along with the Supers ) my favorite. I love how the exhaust note just rattles the stands.

  2. Hopefully there is a time limit on the non-compete. It would be great to some day see Indycars there again.

  3. Ron Ford Says:

    I don’t know anything about PPIR, but I think that area and the Pacific Northwest/Western Canada are without a race that fans can reasonably afford to go to.

  4. billytheskink Says:

    I was sorry to see that the USAC return to PPIR back in 2013 was short-lived. With only one division running pavement now and most of the teams based 1,000+ miles away, I guess it would have been surprising if the return did work.

    Given where ISC and NASCAR are now, they may want to reconsider the agreement they imposed upon PPIR, that is, if they are interested at all in racing in Colorado. The once-proposed track near Denver is not happening and PPIR offers a ready-to-renovate solution.

  5. PPIR may well have been the best of the tracks which debuted on the IndyCar calendar as an IRL race.

    However, I feel Nazareth would have deserved a mention in your article, George, as with the influx of new circuits in that particular era, some older facilities also hit a wall.

    Another permanent circuit which has been built after and/or around the same time as Barber has come and gone to and fro the IndyCar schedule: NOLA.

    It’s kind of odd that NASCAR has had no intention of actually staging events in the State of Colorado when they bought PPIR: there is no competing venue near, and it does not seem to be too far from the metropolitan area of Denver either.

    • billytheskink Says:

      ISC bought and shut down PPIR as a part of a long-gestating plan to build a track near Denver, Aurora was the most common proposed site.

      That plan was hatched in the late 1990s and was stalled by local opposition (much of it from an amusingly-named group called Concerned Residents Against Speedway Havoc or CRASH). It was officially put on hold during the late 2000’s recession and has seen little discussion since.

      • Yannick Says:

        Well, if NASCAR really wanted to stage an event in the area now, they needn’t build a track from scratch as there already is one: PPIR. Maybe they have lost interest in the area since?

    • I did mention Nazareth – fifth paragraph from the bottom. – GP

  6. JP in Colorado Springs Says:

    As a season ticket holder at PPIR, I can tell you folks that the track was doomed from the start due to poor planning and execution of the accessibility into and out of the track. There was only one highway exit off I-25 from the north and the south. You have large population areas in Pueblo to the south and Colorado Springs and Denver to the north. Local government and promoters failed to address this from the first Indycar race until the track’s demise.

    I attended the first Indycar race, which was near capacity, 40-50 K.
    It took four hours to exit the track after the race, again due to only one frontage road north or south, and limited police presence to expedite traffic flow out. Never drew more than 20 K after that. I attend the Indy 500 every year, done Daytona, Talledega, Michigan, Phoenix, Kansas. These are all big time events, with much larger crowds to deal with, and ALL were much better controlled than any event at PPIR. SAD.

    This is a fine racing facility which drew many positive comments from the drivers. With a good promoter and improvements in the inter structure this track could still succeed.

    • Ron Ford Says:

      Always good to get a local point of view and local experience. Thanks.

    • tonelok Says:

      I was at the inaugural race as well and it took about 4 hours to get back to Denver after the race was over They did take out all the grandstands except the center at the start/ finish. The road course inside was nothing to write home about. The most common criticism was it was built on the wrong side of Denver. It is pretty much out in the middle of nowhere. I-25 could not handle the volume of the exodus after the race and the exits were poorly planned adding to the problem. I have a picture somewhere of me sitting on the wall before the track was paved. It had so much promise with so many regional fans eagerly awaiting its completion -finally a permanent oval to host top level open wheel and NASCAR racing. It was one of the better attended IRL races on the schedule. The way the buyout was handled by the ISC and the subsequent non-compete clause basically destroyed any opportunity to see IndyCars as the defunct Denver Grand Prix suffered its demise at about the same period. So Denver went from having a ChampCar and IRL race in the same summer to nothing. Its pretty sad.

  7. Chris Lukens Says:

    Actually PPIR was owned by Lehman Brothers investment bank when Indycar pulled out. ISC bought PPIR after Indycar had taken them off the schedule. PPIR had signed contracts with GoodGuys car show and the AMA for the next season. They were in negotiations with Nascar for the Busch ( or whatever they called it then ) race when Nascar informed PPIR that Indycar was not coming back, therefore Nascar wouldn’t either.

  8. Well, The Nashville SuperSpeedway may not have had hotels and restaurants next to it, but I never had a problem getting in or out. Well, one time getting out and that was in 2003 and that seemed to have been corrected. As for being 40 miles from downtown Nashville, it was easy to get to. Also, Mt Juliet isn’t far enough away for hotels and food to be prohibitive. Those bozos that made a bid on NSS.., well that is another story that has been expertly covered right here. Anyway, the climate for developing or redeveloping race tracks for NASCAR doesn’t seem right. They only got around 40K last weekend at Indianapolis.

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