INDIANAPOLIS — Kudos to the NTT INDYCAR Series and their team around them. Without their forward thinking, one could make a strong case that the only oval on the schedule would be the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the annual Memorial Day weekend extravaganza. However, they now have a new path to making ovals work again.
Unfortunately, there’s a large list of graveyard ovals that have come and went on the INDYCAR schedule. Just look at the schedule for 2008. 11 ovals graced the schedule. Just 3 of which are even still around.
While the fan base desires more ovals and for the series to go back to their roots and their rich heritage of oval racing, the attendance has lately said otherwise. Phoenix recently came in and went in embarrassing fashion. No one went. You can blame promotions all you want, but in reality, enough people were aware of that race weekend but barely any decided to show.
So INDYCAR went back to the drawing board. What can they do differently? Why are road and street courses with less side-by-side racing thriving when ovals aren’t?
The answer was clear – give the fans more bang for their buck.
On road and street courses for example, 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 jammed packed day of racing for each time the track is open. 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.
Pocono for an example, was a prime reason and indicator on the problem for ovals. The race weekend would feature just 2 practice sessions 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? That was how most oval race weekend’s went.
So INDYCAR pondered, how can we bring in more for these ovals and how can we get a large corporate backing?
The World Wide Technology and their team found the way. A track (oval part) that was left for dead was revitalized by a simple concept. Bring the RTI there and market the hell around it.
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 the Friday morning from WWTR of this past August, 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.”
Their efforts were further propelled when they found a massive backing by the Bommarito Automotive Group. They’ve spent tons of money on this race weekend each year and as a result, the track has put it back to the fans by adding more and more.
Iowa saw that model and replicated that this past 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,” Jimmie 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.”
Scott 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.”
On Wednesday, Iowa announced an even bigger star-studded concert lineup which will surely draw a crowd in excess of 80k again next July. That’s a massive improvement from the 20-25k max that showed up annually prior.
The path is clear, the blueprint is out there and WWTR and Iowa are proof that it works.
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.”