ELKHART LAKE, Wis – On Friday, it was revealed that the ISM Raceway in Phoenix wouldn’t be returning to the 2019 Verizon IndyCar Serie schedule. After three years, the event wasn’t gaining any traction. Crowds were growing smaller and smaller and the racing was less than ideal.
But, less than 48 hours later, another track that came on the schedule the same year (2016) as Phoenix just signed a three-year extension with the series.
Prior to the start of Sunday’s Kohler Grand Prix, Road America president and general manager George Bruggenthies announced that the 4.014-mile track and the series agreed on a multi year extension that will keep INDYCAR action in Elkhart Lake through the 2021 season.
That’s great news for the series.
INDYCAR raced at Road America every year from 1982 through 2007 but when crowds started slipping and a merger between Champ Car and INDYCAR occurred for 2008, Road America was an afterthought and left off the schedule for the foreseeable future.
When the series started their climb back to popularity, the fan base started screaming for a return to the popular scenic facility in central Wisconsin. INDYCAR listened and worked out a deal for the 2016 season. The track has produced great racing while playing in front of big crowds ever since.
Bruggenthies didn’t divulge where on the schedule the race will fall in the future but logic would likely keep it in this race weekend in June.
But, how does one track have growth and another slip? The answer is simple, road and street courses are the new future for INDYCAR. Like it or not, that’s the way this is trending.
Fans want ovals to remain on the schedule, but they’re not showing up for them when they’re given.
New Hampshire, Kentucky, Chicagoland, Kansas, Las Vegas, Homestead, Richmond, Nashville, Milwaukee, Michigan, Fontana and now Phoenix are ovals that have been on the schedule to gone over the last decade. Fans are screaming “we want ovals” but the crowds are embarrassingly small at those tracks.
When given Road America, fans show up in droves. There were likely more fans in Road America this past weekend than at Phoenix and Texas combined. That says it all.
The Indianapolis 500 is the center piece of the schedule and has 300,000+ fans showing up. But, when the fans leave 16th and Georgetown on Memorial Day weekend, they’re just not showing up anywhere else until 12 months later. A portion of that fan base goes to Mid-Ohio, Road America and Gateway but they don’t care about any other race. They’re just not backing up their mouths with their wallets for Milwaukee, Phoenix, Texas, Pocono, Iowa right now. If they’re not careful, it’s going to be the Indy 500 and just road/street courses before and after.
The only chance to keep ovals, fans have to show up. There’s no other way around it. They’re doing so in Road America, hence the three year extension. They didn’t in Phoenix, hence the extinction.
This new trend isn’t a series, driver or track problem, it’s a fan base problem and they’re showing where they want the series’ direction to be heading. INDYCAR is following the money.