“I just think we need to get back to more ovals,” says Dixon as drivers rave about how Iowa/WWTR has revolutionized how INDYCAR stages oval races

MADISON, Ill — Saturday’s Bommarito Automotive Group (6 p.m. ET, USA, INDYCAR Radio Network) marks the 15th race of the 2022 season. The World Wide Technology Raceway is in a prime sport on the NTT INDYCAR Series calendar. However, less than a decade ago they weren’t even a thought.

Now, this is one of the more highly anticipated events of the season. The folks at WWTR have transcended what oval race weekends now look like in the series and have started a model that if other ovals are going to come onboard, they’re going to have to replicate.

See, the current NTT INDYCAR Series schedule is 17 races in length. The sweet spot that they feel like is somewhere between 16-20. No more. No less. Start in early spring and end around Mid September.

However, if the series is to expand and evolve to more races in the future, most drivers would love to see an addition of more ovals to it.

Currently with how the schedule is constructed, we only have 4 of them right now. 2 of which are on superspeedway’s (Texas, Indianapolis) and the other 2 on short ovals (Iowa, World Wide Technology Raceway). With Iowa being a doubleheader, that’s 5 of the 17 races on tracks that only produce left hand turns.

Is that enough?

Of course not. Now with the threat of Texas potentially being left off soon, the writing is on the wall and that’s to find some new oval venues.

“I don’t think you can go off of Texas because the PJ1 stuff completely ruined that place,” Colton Herta said on Friday.

That track has become a disaster for both INDYCAR and NASCAR. There’s talks now of a complete do over which if so, it could impact on if INDYCAR ends up coming back after the 2023 season.

“I think they should just put it back to the way it was from my standpoint,” Jimmie Johnson lobbied. “In all my years in Cup, it was the best mile-and-a-half, especially once it aged, from my perspective.

“Based on my previous experience in NASCAR, I think just put it back.”

Scott Dixon agreed.

“Yeah, 100%, back to where it was,” he says. “I think we’ve also spoken about whatever they had at Long Beach on that Friday, whatever that sealant was, should be the second lane at Texas.”

Even Texas aside, finding an oval suitor to come onboard is easier said than done.

“I just think we need to get back to more ovals, which I think everybody can definitely agree on that,” Dixon said. “It’s just picking the right ones, picking the right partnerships that do exactly what they’ve done in Iowa or here in St. Louis.”

22 of Dixon’s 53 wins came on ovals. He knows their value. He’s also right in a sense that you can’t just go to one just to go there. They’ve tried but at the end of the day, if the fans aren’t showing up, why keep going?

Fans begged for Phoenix to come back. It did. That reign was short lived. No one came. Fans wanted Milwaukee to return. Andretti promoted it. No one really came out like they said they would. Fontana put on one of the best races in 2015 that you’d ever see. No one was there to witness it. Pocono came and went.

Fans showed out in droves last month at Iowa. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

If someone is going to come back or even a new oval to come onto the schedule, fans have to come out. They have to make this appointment viewing. You can’t skip it.

On the fans side, they’ll cry that there needs to be a reason for them to come out. For years, the oval model was to have race day be just that, race day. There wasn’t much action on track outside of that.

Pocono for example would feature 2 practice session and qualifying on Saturday and just the race on Sunday. The only other real on track activity was vintage cars. There’s just not much to do other than the race itself so fans wondered why come all day for 3 hours of action?

On road and street courses, you get all 3 ladders of the Road to Indy as well as INDYCAR. Sometimes you get sports cars and Super Trucks too. It’s a filled day of racing for each. The only down time is typically the 5-10 minute breaks between sessions to usher one series off the track and a new one on it.

Well, World Wide Technology Raceway was the model to bringing that to oval action. When they came back to the series schedule in 2017, the promotions was bar none as good as anywhere else on the schedule and the activity each day was like you’d see on road/street courses. There’s constantly a car on track.

That and a carnival like atmosphere is a reason to why this track has stuck around for 6 years and counting now. They get it.

“I think you’re absolutely right. I think it provides a template for others. It’s a case study, right? It shows what is possible,” Alexander Rossi said on Friday morning from WWTR, the site of the 15th race of the 2022 season.

“Most things in life require capital and investment to grow. I don’t think an INDYCAR event is any different. We obviously have a huge amount of support and gratitude to our current and existing promoters for what they do. We wouldn’t have a championship without them.

“However, we all want to see this series grow, see it continue to evolve and invite a new fan base in, introduce them to our sport. That requires, like I said, time and money to do that.

“We have a template for what has been successful. Hopefully it’s a roadmap for other promoters going forward.”

His teammate agreed.

“It’s important in our sport, right, to have good promotion, these sort of things,” Colton Herta noted. “We have seen that in the crowd count for the last few races.

“Yeah, everybody here at Gateway have been really good promoters. We’ve always had outstanding crowds whether that be a day or night race.”

Iowa saw that model and replicated that this year. After being left off the 2021 schedule, they were back in 2022 and did so in a big way. Iowa has Hy-Vee. Gateway has Bommarito. Each are making this work.

“It is great to see for all the obvious reasons,” Johnson said. “It’s my first time to Iowa, first time here with an INDYCAR. From afar watching that, I’ve known this race has always had a lot of excitement around it. The group promoting it and sponsoring it has always worked very hard.

“The thing that I really appreciate about the INDYCAR SERIES and the culture here, people within the sport, its promoters, drivers, teams, everybody generally wants to grow the sport and is putting everything that they can in to grow it.

“I didn’t feel like my last few years in NASCAR was that way. I felt like there was a lot of finger pointing, not participating in helping grow the sport, more rock throwing than anything, pointing fingers at who is doing it wrong. Here it feels like everybody is trying to grow the sport and do it right.”

Dixon agreed with him.

“Yeah, I think it’s important. It’s very important,” he said. “Having been part of the series for a little bit now, it’s great to see enthusiasm. I think what Hy-Vee did was tremendous. Huge congrats to them. It showed that it worked. Got a lot of people back out.”

As far as where the next Gateway or Iowa could come from?

“Hopefully we can do that at some new venues coming quickly here, even if it’s something like Kentucky, Milwaukee, which is important for the heritage of what INDYCAR racing is,” Dixon continued.

“It shows that, as I said, it can be done. Hopefully they continue to. Kentucky was always fun. It was quite a demanding circuit, but always played well for INDYCAR racing. Richmond, I know we were pretty close to being back there, apart from the situation with COVID.”

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