Earlier this year, NASCAR implemented some large scale changes to its 2020 schedule. Among the many adjustments, NASCAR will be making its first attempt at hosting a double header. Pocono Raceway, which traditionally held two separate events during the summer months, will now have two races over the course of one weekend. It’s a bold move that aims to garner more fanfare from the surrounding area, but there is an even better track that could use a double header, Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS).
NASCAR has had a tumultuous past few years regarding attendance at the most historic track in motor racing. Ticket sales have been abysmal at IMS since it moved to an early September slot. There are a myriad of reasons as to why. Purchasing power, the quality of the racing, and with the most recent date shift, football season have all collided with track attendance. The move to Fourth of July weekend, however, should help stymie the dwindling attendance numbers. Yet, NASCAR could do one better.
Pocono Raceway is just not that entertaining of a track watch. Sure its been dubbed the tricky triangle and it demands the most out of each team in regards to setting the car up. Yet, once the race begins the field can become incredibly spread out in a span of ten laps leading to a lot of single file racing, and ticket sales have taken a dip as well. There is just no need to keep two races on the calendar.
The same can be said for Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Racing at IMS over the past few years has been uninspiring. Much like Pocono, the field can become spread out and the leader gains a significant advantage in clean air. Dominant cars are not news for NASCAR but Sunday’s race saw Kevin Harvick easily pull away from the field after almost every restart. It just does not make for good racing.
Indianapolis Motor Speedway could offer a plausible solution. The road course at IMS could supply an incredible double header weekend. A road course race on Saturday followed by the traditional oval layout on Sunday all taking place on Fourth of July weekend sounds tantalizing. NASCAR has seen an increase in interest for more road course racing, as seen by the recent addition of Charlotte’s roval track in the NASCAR Playoffs.
The inclusion of two different formats at one historic track over the course of Fourth of July weekend would offer something for everybody. NASCAR would have the opportunity to host numerous events, promote the campground surrounding the track, and smaller racing events at the local dirt track, all of which has already been implemented. This does not mean that the inclusion of a road course races lacks significant downsides.
For starters, a major reason for the recent excitement at IMS has been due to the fact it hosted the regular season finale. The storylines built up entering the weekend was what made Richmond’s season finale races so engaging and tense. IMS offered this feeling as well, and for most of the race the discussion was about the playoff contenders instead of who was leading the pack. This is a manufactured feeling and is not caused by the quality of racing itself.
Races cost money to host. No surprise there, and it would surely cost a considerable amount of investment to host two races on two different layouts on the same weekend. On top of this, there is just no guarantee that fans would show up for a road course race, and, with the current predictability of the traditional Brickyard 400, possible attendees could look elsewhere for entertainment on Fourth of July.
NASCAR is not built for Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The cars are too slow to make up for the extremely long straights and quick successive corners. IndyCars race around the track barely needing to lift while driving at speeds in excess of 200 mph. Sometimes tracks are not constructed for certain racing series (ie. IndyCar at Pocono) and that’s okay. Indianapolis Motor Speedway is a famed and historic track, but not because of NASCAR.
The initial rush in fan support following Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s inaugural race on the NASCAR calendar back in 1994 has disappeared. A sellout crowd over 250,000 is now nothing more than around 50,000. This Sunday’s race left significant patches of empty seats around the speedway and some sections were completely closed off. Even an attendance matching that of Darlington the week prior paints a depressing picture for NASCAR at the Brickyard.
IMS track president J. Douglas Boles appeared to downplay the prospect of including a road course race in the future,
“We have considered the road course and we still continue to talk about.”
He went on to state,
“I think the challenge for us, especially with respect to the Monster Energy (NASCAR Cup Series), is where we’re really an oval brand and the Monster Energy Cup is really an oval brand and… what makes running here special is winning on the oval where Ray Harroun won, where AJ Foyt won, where Wilbur Shaw… where Jeff Gordon won. That’s what really makes this special.”
“We’re not afraid to change if we think that change is going to make the event better and, like I said, the road course is something we’ve talked about, it’s just not on the horizon yet.”
The idea that NASCAR is an oval brand is becoming an antiquated opinion. NASCAR’s roots are indeed firmly planted in oval racing, but over the years some of the most exciting races have occurred at the three road courses on its calendar.
NASCAR has even publicly stated that fans are interested in more road courses on the calendar so why not have one at an historic track. NASCAR does not need to add three or four more road/roval races to the schedule, but having at least one more on the calendar would be a good mix of old and new.
Winning at the oval is indeed special for the driver, but if spectators are not there to share in the victory is it truly that memorable?
NASCAR needs to come to a determination about the importance of racing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The latest move to bring the Brickyard 400 to such a special weekend in America shows just how important NASCAR wants the race to be. After all, it will be moving the traditional Daytona night race out of this coveted spot. It is now taking a gamble which could affect attendance at two iconic tracks.
If NASCAR is wholly committed on making it work at IMS, it needs to be innovative. Moving dates is not going to create interest, especially when it is forcing IMS to be something that it hasn’t been since the 90s. NASCAR must try something new.
There are no lights at Indianapolis Motor Speedway so a night race is out of the question. Including a road course race, however, in addition to the traditional oval track needs to be the ultimate test of IMS’s future with the sport. This endeavor would be expensive, but the benefits just might outweigh the costs.
Perhaps the road course race ends up being more appealing to fans, and increases attendance for the race. The traditional oval race may suffer or could see a bump in attendance since people are making a special weekend out of the two events. If the traditional Brickyard 400 fails, then perhaps NASCAR only races the road course in the future. In the event that the entire weekend is a catastrophic failure, at least NASCAR knows it tried everything and simply needs to move on.
*The placeholder photo above was taken at Daytona International Speedway. No Indianapolis Motor Speedway photo was available for use*