A Nice Possible Addition For 2017

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While it has not been officially announced, all signs are now pointing towards Gateway Motorsports Park joining the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule. It had been rumored for a few months, but Robin Miller felt good enough about it to write an article saying it was all but a done deal.

There is a lot of good and very little negative about this if it turns out to be true. The series desperately needs another oval on the schedule. In 2003, IndyCar ran on fifteen different ovals in a sixteen-race season, running at Texas Motor Speedway twice in the days when the series was an all-oval series. This season had only five ovals on the schedule – Phoenix, Indianapolis, Texas, Iowa and Pocono. That is the fewest amount of ovals on the schedule since the series began operations in 1996. If the Verizon IndyCar wants to tout the versatility of its drivers to run a variety of race courses – it has to run more than five ovals in a sixteen (or more) race season.

There is the argument that IndyCar already has too many races in the Midwest and that they need to branch out more. I think they need to focus on growing the fan base they already have. Yes, I would like to see races in Colorado and the Pacific Northwest; but it’s also important to give the fans that actually go to races more opportunities to do just that – go to another race within driving distance.

Selfishly, I’m very happy. St. Louis is only a four-hour drive from Nashville – the same distance as it is to Indianapolis from here. Of the many things this series needs, one is to have butts in the seats so that each race appears to be a big event on TV. I don’t care if it’s the same people going to every race, they still have to buy tickets. The more people that attend each race, the better off things will be. Now, ultimately the fan base has to grow where the series isn’t relying on the same fans to attend several races. You’d like for each race to stand on its own merit and fan base. Other than Indianapolis, Long Beach and possibly Barber and St. Petersburg – most races aren’t there yet.

Another positive about Gateway is that it is a very unique track. It is a 1.25 mile egg-shaped oval, similar in shape to Darlington and Twin-Ring Motegi. The banking for Turns One & Two is 11°, while Turns Three & Four is 9°. It is reportedly challenging to drive, but most drivers liked it when CART and then the old IRL ran there previously.

Gateway Motorsports Park is located in Madison, Illinois – just across the Mississippi River from St. Louis. The complex that also includes an infield road course as well as a quarter-mile drag strip, was owned by Dover Motorsports – the same inept group that built and subsequently closed Nashville Superspeedway in 2011. Dover closed Gateway in 2010. Unlike Nashville’s white-elephant, a new buyer emerged and bought Gateway in 2013. Since then, the track has hosted USAC Silver Crown events as well as the Camping World Truck Series.

CART first raced at Gateway in 1997, with the precarious date of the Saturday before the Indianapolis 500. The idea was to not run head-to-head with the Indianapolis 500, but local fans perceived that their venue was being used as a pawn in the open-wheel wars of the late nineties. In 2000, the race was moved to the fall and in 2001, the race switched from CART to the rival IRL. Poor attendance caused the race to be dropped from the IRL schedule after the 2003 race.

Paul Tracy won that first CART race at Gateway in 1997, driving for Roger Penske. Other CART winners at Gateway were Alex Zanardi driving for Chip Ganassi, Michael Andretti diving for Newman/Haas and Juan Montoya for Ganassi. When the track switched to the IRL schedule, it was Al Unser, Jr. running for Tom Kelley, then Gil de Ferran and Helio Castroneves both driving for Penske. As you see, it was pretty much the same teams winning back then as now.

I do fear one unknown regarding what looks like an imminent announcement. Robin Miller reported that the race would probably run in August. On the surface, that sounds good because the August schedule has been a little light for the past few seasons. But I’m wondering…will Gateway be in addition to Pocono or in place of Pocono? Series officials are not going to announce the fate of the Pocono race until this year’s race runs in a couple of weeks. Announcing that IndyCar will not return to Pocono would kill any chance of success this year’s race might have.

But I’ve not heard anything on the fate of Pocono for next season. Some were surprised that Pocono made it to the 2016 slate after three years of poor attendance. One reason why I’m planning to attend Pocono this season is that I’m afraid it won’t be back and I’ve always wanted to go. Waiting to go to Milwaukee didn’t work out so well for me, so I want to make sure I get Pocono in…just in case.

My hope is that Gateway will be in addition to Pocono, giving the Verizon IndyCar Series a whopping total of six ovals. My ideal schedule would feature about twenty races, with ten ovals and ten non-ovals. But that’s assuming that fans will start attending the ovals like they do the natural terrain road courses – like Barber, Road America and Mid-Ohio. I’m hearing positive things about the race at Watkins Glen, which was thrown together at the last minute – but I’ll withhold comment until after the event is held next month.

So there is another venue that will be presumably added to next year’s schedule. It’s an oval and it is within a four-hour drive to my house. What’s to complain about?

George Phillips

Please Note:  Susan and I are having out-of-town guests over the weekend. Therefore, there will be no post here on Monday, Aug 8. I will return here on Wed Aug 10. – GP

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19 Responses to “A Nice Possible Addition For 2017”

  1. Brian McKay Says:

    Enjoy your weekend.

  2. Ron Ford Says:

    Good news. I hope they get a good sponsor for the race.

  3. That August date scares me for a few reasons, possibly replacing Pocono and also I remember the first NASCAR Busch race there in 1997 around the end of July, it was 105 degrees and the track was breaking up from heat.

    We need oval racing though, even with Gateway being a snoozer in the past. Speaking of that, I was looking at old clips from magazines I have and I found one that Robin Miller wrote about the IRL in 1998, they were trying to get the Cleveland race and make it an oval event between the 2 runways. I wouldn’t mind that idea coming back up!

  4. I’m always happy for another oval, but I really can’t get excited about Gateway. It’s basically the Twin Ring Motegi, and races there were less than thrilling. Maybe I’ll be proven wrong, but I have low expectations for Gateway and Indycar. I don’t remember ever being impressed by the Xfinity/Trucks at Gateway.

  5. I will also be pleased if Gateway does make the schedule. As you noted, its an easy trip from Indy (where I live) and we will most definitely buy tickets to the race. I am worried about the heat if it is in fact in August. With it being so close to St Louis it also gives families a nice opportunity to have a mini vacation, going to the race as well as spending the down time in the city, which has plenty of things to offer.

  6. It’s hot everywhere in August.

    Maybe shorter grandstands with bigger roofs would help. Or just make all the seating at ovals like the luxury suites.

  7. billytheskink Says:

    The resurrection of Gateway is a tremendous story, and not just from an Indycar perspective. Few race tracks that have closed get a second life like the one Gateway is experiencing now. Simply reopening is rare enough, but to reopen and once again host major motorsports events is nearly unheard of. In these days where there is much evidence that motorsports is struggling across the board, the revival of Gateway is a ray of hope.

    I’ll grant that I am easy to please, but I’ve always found the track’s oblong configuration to pose an interesting challenge. I suppose we’ll have to see how the current Indycar behaves on it, but I’ve found the recent NASCAR truck series races at Gateway to be among their better shows.

    Heat is going to be an issue at most places you can race in August. I would expect that Gateway is angling for a night race, which should help a little with the temperature. Whether or not they get one will depend on NBCSN’s schedule I’m sure.

  8. hey George. I think its good they added st Louis. the only thing better would be getting rid of all street races and replacing them with ovals, natural road courses and dirt tracks. that’s something that would really diverse. omly dreamimg on my part.

  9. To celebrate I am off to buy some Ovaltine. I hope that when the date and time for the race is chosen-especially the time, that the fans who attend the race will get greater consideration than the TV suits.

  10. I hope the local track operator plays it up big, fills the stands and makes a lot of money. The series needs another oval and maybe we can get back to the Oval Championship and the Road/Street Championship. I believe it was the Foyt Championship and Andretti Championship.

  11. Little Al won with Galles in 2001. Didn’t join Kelley until 2002.

  12. Is it just me or does IndyCar need to get priorities in order. Personally, I think Pocono and KEEPING it on the schedule should be the first priority. Pocono is so much more attractive with IndyCars running than NASCAR and the series desperately needs another 500 miler. If I am Mark Miles (and I’m most certainly not,) I’m sitting down with everyone involved with Pocono and trying to hammer out a way that I can wrap them up for another two years MINIMUM. If that means I adjust sanctioning fees, commit to a date specific, help with marketing, or whatever it takes to get them wrapped up for at least two years, I’m doing it, so this is ONE I don’t have to renegotiate NEXT year, praying to keep them on the schedule.

    We’ve had entirely too many one-and-dones. Makes the series look clownish. For all we find either “tricked out” or boring about NASCAR, the one thing they know is (roughly) the same every year is the schedule. The “Holidays” (Charlotte on Memorial Day, Daytona on Independence Day, and Darlington on Labor Day,), are going to be the same EVERY year, as is the sequence of races. I’d LOVE for IndyCar to get to the point that we’d have something settled other than the May/June sequence of Indy, Detroit, and Texas.

    Sure, I want more ovals. I’m all in for getting Gateway aboard, and any other oval we can scare up. (And Andrew’s idea of running in Cleveland as an oval between the runways at Burke Lakefront airport is one I think could be fascinating.) What I’d also like, however, is to have a schedule that we don’t have to sweat every year, hoping that we’re not going to drop yet another oval, or take a screwing when a Boston DOESN’T happen.

    Maybe I’m living in Fantasyland, I don’t know. But, the departure of Target should tell us all that there is more to do to make this series really viable.

    • Ron Ford Says:

      Good points Skip. Continuity of place and dates is one thing Nascar has going for it that IndyCar does not. As I have said here and elsewhere, what would the attendence be for the Indy500 if it were not on the same date and at the same time each year? I always tried to take as many friends and family as I could to the Milwaukee Mile in recent years. Three different dates, three different starting times made that difficult. And starting the race at 4PM on a Sunday afternoon to please the TV suits was beyond dumb.

  13. I too am selfishly excited about this. Having another race less than 3 hours away is something I’m looking forward to. Sounds like it will be in addition to Pocono, but we will find out soon. I’m fine with more races in the midwest because our region is more likely to attend than those who don’t really understand what IndyCar is.

  14. Gurney Eagle Says:

    Does Gateway have lights? If heat is a concern, maybe it could be run on Saturday night.

    • billytheskink Says:

      Gateway has lights, and has run their NASCAR truck series race on Saturday night since the track reopened.

  15. With my past as an IndyCar follower from abroad who had no interest in the IRL before my favourite stateside driver Dario Franchitti’s first Indy 500 victory, and had quit following ChampCar when the “Big 3” of Andretti/Green, Penske and Ganassi had all moved to the IRL until my countryman Timo Glock raced there, I’m rather certain I have never watched any race held at Gateway on TV before. Short ovals are a very important element of this sport and are interesting and exciting to watch because they highlight the driver skill of navigating in traffic. So Gateway should be a nice addition to the schedule.

    The only 2 superspeedways which I think IndyCar races are interesting to watch at are IMS and Pocono. Looking at the record books from Pocono, it’s a race that is won by champions: all but one previous IndyCar winners there have either won a championship or an Indy 500 or both, some even multiple times. The only exception to that is Teo Fabi.
    So I’d say Pocono brings out the best in champions and showcases why they are champions. That’s why it should remain on the schedule. When Randy Bernard brought it back to IndyCar amidst pulling out of all ISC tracks the IRL had run on, I thought it was a great addition. Last year when so many cars flipped at Indy, I was afraid of similar stuff happening at Fontana and Pocono, just because of the sheer speed those cars run at these places, and knowing ground effect turned backwards produces lift instead of downforce. At Fontana, drivers were racing on the edge of the knife for 500 miles, and it was their extremely high skill and luck which turned this into a safe race. I still feel the reason it had to go was that it upstaged the Indy 500, and the “no races in October” condition was merely an excuse. The IndyCar world was not so lucky at all at Pocono last year when Justin Wilson got hit in the head by an airborne nosecone that came loose in a single-car accident of the lead car whilst he was running somewhere in mid-field. RIP Justin Wilson. It still makes me sad to think about it and makes me question myself why I still follow motor racing again. I didn’t watch any races until Barber of this year because the loss of Justin hit so hard. I doubt I’m going to watch this year’s Pocono 500 on TV but I’m going to follow your coverage, George.

    Here’s hoping for a good and safe race.

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