INDIANAPOLIS – Instead of being North of the Border this past weekend and covering the Verizon IndyCar Series race in Toronto, I was a couple of hours south of us at the Kentucky Speedway for the eighth annual Quaker State 400 race weekend. As usual, the Kentucky Speedway knocked it out of the park. But, while I was there, a story came out on Friday afternoon that Laguna Seca would likely be coming back as a host for the INDYCAR Series for the 2019 season. That got my mind thinking, what if the series came back to Kentucky too.
It’s one of the more popular tracks being mentioned by fans as one that they’d like to see return. We lost the ISM Raceway in Phoenix for next season and need a replacement. While Phoenix is an ISC track and Kentucky SMI, a return to Kentucky could be popular for this fan base. Then, it just so happened that Executive Vice President and General Manager Mark Simendinger was standing right there a few rows from me in the media center on Saturday evening.
I know I was there for NASCAR but I would be remissed if I didn’t ask about a potential INDYCAR return. Unfortunately, I don’t want to disappoint any INDYCAR fans, but it doesn’t sound like a return is in the cards right now. So much so, Simendinger said that the series hasn’t reached out to him at all about the track hosting a race.
The series started going to Kentucky in 2000 but stopped after the 2011 season. Crowds started falling off and by time for an extension, the series had just lost Dan Wheldon at a similar track in Las Vegas and racing on tracks like this was almost taboo.
It seemed like INDYCAR favored big superspeedways like Indy, Pocono and Texas or short tracks like Iowa and Phoenix. Chicagoland, Kentucky, Vegas, etc, well they were looked at as too dangerous.
While you can never say never, Simendinger said that at this point, he doesn’t see it working with the current business model that the series has. He noted that changes would have to be made in terms of sanctioning fees and a lot of other expenses for him to consider it because he said if he paid what Laguna Seca is paying, “I wouldn’t make any money.”
He noted that it seems to be the case for INDYCAR oval races anyways. For some reason, fans aren’t showing up and the tracks are losing a ton of money. If he paid the sanctioning fee, he basically said that he would be sponsoring his own race. That’s the kind of investment you’d be putting into it.
But, it’s not like he’s not interested though. Simendinger, said that he’d love to have the series back and talk to Jay Frye, Mark Miles and company about a potential future return still. He said that if they can work out a good fee, one that helps both sides, he’d listen to what they have to offer. In fact, he’s surprised that they haven’t reached out by now. He thought with the recent repaves on his 1.5-mile track, that INDYCAR would have reached out. Instead, they’ve had a few Indy Lights tests and had a test date scheduled for an INDYCAR team last year but saw it get rained out without rescheduling.
Simendinger said too that on his side, he obviously would love to have a race at any point of the year. He said his track virtually sits empty other than the July race weekend and another one in September. Other than that, it’s close to the main fan base and has been repaved to where they can easily race on it. Plus, he said that the track has always been one of INDYCAR’s better hosts due to the close nature of the racing. He thinks it can be even better now because of the new nature of how vastly different the two ends of the turns are. 1-2 are wider and banked more than 3-4. He said that they could run 210 to 215 and have a better show than everyone running 220+.
Simendinger is interested but just waiting for his phone to ring.