The Rapid Rise And Fall Of PPIR
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.