Reports surfaced this week that the Verizon IndyCar Series is in discussions with the privately-owned NOLA Motorsports Park, a flat and relatively new circuit outside of New Orleans, Louisiana, about the possibility of bringing open-wheel racing to a venue that’s previously hosted AMA Superbikes.
For the life of me, I can’t understand why. Nothing against the NOLA Motorsports Park itself, for I’m led to believe it’s a fairly racy, if completely flat circuit, but IndyCar has tried and tried for years to really establish a solid southern footprint and, for the most part, it just hasn’t worked.
There’s a string of failed races down south – Nashville, Charlotte, Atlanta, Richmond and the very short-lived Miami street race.
Granted, there’s been some successes down in what’s really NASCAR country. The season-opening St Petersburg Grand Prix, around downtown streets and the city’s airport, has been a solid performer since debuting more than a decade ago, and, more recently, the Barber Motorsports Park event outside Birmingham, Alabama has attracted big crowds and a lot of positive press.
That said, there’ve been far more misses than hits in the south, and given that there isn’t much in the way of accommodation close to the track, and that, apparently, spectator facilities aren’t great, I don’t see how the proposed NOLA Motorsports Park can become a winner for the IndyCar Series.
Why risk diluting the already-small southern fan-base (and, by extension, well attended events at St Pete and Barber) by putting on a third race when the chances of it becoming a long-term success aren’t very good.
Worse, is the apparent indifference to all forms of racing, even NASCAR, in Louisiana. The papers down there don’t even give the traditional southern racing staple much press. What press would they give to IndyCar? What sort of a crowd would turn up?
Most of the IndyCar fan-base resides in the Midwest, the Pacific Northwest and the north-east. Here’s a crazy idea: instead of looking for new venues, how about turning the clock back and making a return to some of the great tracks of IndyCar’s glory days.
There are plenty of options to choose from – Road America in the Midwest, Portland International Raceway in the Pacific Northwest and Watkins Glen in the Northeast, to name just three.
Even look west, to Laguna Seca or the bullring oval in Phoenix, Arizona. Don’t forget the Cleveland airport circuit in the US heartland, that was always popular, especially when it ran as a night race.
Something different? Return to Edmonton in Canada.
I’m perplexed as to why the powers-that-be at IndyCar headquarters continue to want to expand to non-traditional markets, when there are places where fans clamour for the return of races. The Midwest, especially, has always supported IndyCar racing. The same can’t be said for the south.
I read Robin Miller’s Mailbag on Racer.com weekly, and it seems it’s full of people who live in Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan etc. wanting a return of races to those circuits I mentioned above (and others), but those pleas go unanswered.
If IndyCar returns to Road America – especially as part of a double-header weekend with sports cars – you’re almost guaranteed a big crowd. Same with Watkins Glen, Portland and the other tracks I suggested.
The same cannot be said for a race in NASCAR-dominated territory.
By racing at NOLA Motorsports Park, you would be causing potential – no, probable – harm to the Barber and St Pete events. That just doesn’t make business sense, and you could imagine the dismay on the faces of the promoters of those two events.
The bottom line is that IndyCar racing has never been big in the south and it never will be, not compared to NASCAR, yet there are two solid events there that have carved out a nice niche for themselves.
The strong likelihood is that a third one, in perhaps the least-interested state for racing in all of America, will be a spectacular failure. IndyCar have had enough of those over the years. I’d prefer to see the oft-rumoured street race in Providence, Rhode Island go ahead before this NOLA Motorsports Park event. At least the locale is right.
The focus of IndyCar should be taking races back to popular old venues, rather than scheduling races at new tracks where there is little in the way of a built-in fan-base.