It occurred to me the other day that street racing in IndyCar could become obsolete one day.
Currently, IndyCar races at St. Petersburg, Long Beach, Detroit Belle Isle Park, and Toronto, comprising of five races (two races in Detroit) which accounts for about 30% of the schedule.
Why am I worried?
Recently, Long Beach, which is the gold standard of street racing venues probably in the world, has been under threat from Formula 1 and their own community. Long Beach’s city council was hearing proposals from Formula 1 in recent years. Fortunately for IndyCar, they decided to extend their deal with the series that has been racing there since 1984. IndyCar has a deal in place until 2023 with a five year option. To say that Formula 1 may not threaten to negotiate a better deal in the future isn’t out of the question.
The MLB team, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, are strongly considering building a new stadium, and Long Beach might be where they end up. If they end up there, the track would have to be reconfigured, and it could compromise its future.
The Detroit GP at Belle Isle park is well run and has heavy backing from Roger Penske and other key figures, but local groups have been on a mission to cancel the race, going as far to say that the race’s occupation of the track is illegal.
Toronto has been subject to recent growth in the area of Exhibition place, impacting the track layout and the pit road. To say that the track may be under threat for future expansion isn’t out of the question.
Shout to St. Petersburg. No drama to speak of there!
One of the problems we see with street racing nowadays is the amount of negative opinions that can be voiced by local groups has become a lot easier. I’m not going to get into the topics they are trying to debate; I’m merely stating that with social media, it is easier to get opinions out there and rally support to obstruct / protest a street race.
Case and point – the 2016 IndyCar Season was supposed to end in glittering Boston near the South Boston Seaport. The proposed race was doomed from the announcement. Protests loomed around traffic implications, obstruction to daily life of the citizens, threats to the environment within the city (specifically the wetlands), and overall organizational ineptitude.
The failure to effectively implement the Boston street race led to lawsuits, headaches, and a bad look for IndyCar. Watkins Glen stepped in and saved the day for IndyCar.
Baltimore, a street race that hosted an IndyCar race for three years, had huge crowds, great racing, and generated millions in revenue for the businesses of Baltimore. The race ended up being cancelled because of scheduling conflicts and financial issues by the city and the promoter.
Houston was on the schedule in 2013 and 2014, but was practically in a parking lot outside of NRG Stadium, so it was nothing to brag about.
Edmonton, a circuit on an airport, could no longer afford to keep IndyCar in the fold and had to let them go after 2012.
Moral of the story? Outside of what IndyCar currently has, street racing as a whole can be a major pain to establish a race, is under constant threat to be removed, replaced, protested, or to be not financially viable.
There have been a couple of street races rumored to be exploring the option of adding IndyCar in recent years:
- Calgary – The one with likely the most legs in a city that may actually want a street race is Calgary. IndyCar team owner Ric Peterson and driver James Hinchcliffe have been working hard to make this a reality, so there’s still plenty of hurdles for them to get through before it becomes a reality.
- Nashville – Nashville was in the serious stages of discussing a race with IndyCar, but local officials stated there were one too many obstacles to overcome. It is still being discussed as a possibility in the future.
- Oklahoma City – In 2016, Oklahoma City was considering adding an IndyCar race, but no further progress has been made.
- Providence – Around the same time as the Boston debacle, IndyCar was also looking at racing at Providence, Rhode Island. No further progress has been made since 2015.
- Surfers Paradise – IndyCar has not been back to Australia since 2008. There are financial and scheduling obstacles in the way, but the serious nature of the talks has me hopeful about this one day. As a long established street race, local support should be mostly positive.
So, where do we go from here? Street races are a core part of the diversity of IndyCar’s schedule, but if they no longer become viable, then there isn’t much they can do. It is way too financially risky for IndyCar to force their way into a city just to accommodate a scheduling need.
IndyCar has done a great job of adding some top quality road courses to the schedule. COTA and Laguna Seca joined the schedule in 2019. Watkins Glen was on the schedule in 2016 and 2017, but was replaced because of not being able to find a date that made both parties happy.
Is there more road courses on the radar? The Charlotte Roval is gaining a lot of traction to join IndyCar some day. Are rovals the best way to add road courses on the schedule that are safe and in areas where fans are familiar with racing? Time will tell. I do not forsee one of the road courses in Canada, like Montreal, Mosport, or Mont-Tremblant, being added.
Overall, I am pretty worried about the current affairs of street races and what it may look like in five years. Street racing produces some pretty dramatic moments and there’s nothing quite like watching an open-wheel car carving its way though a downtown backdrop. I hope they don’t go anywhere.
Article’s preview photo on main page – Stephen King / IndyCar Media