The Frontstretch: The Greatest Street Course Racing Has Never Seen by Danny Peters -- Wednesday September 5, 2012

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The Greatest Street Course Racing Has Never Seen

The Yellow Stripe · Danny Peters · Wednesday September 5, 2012


I came to the world of INDYCAR just as I did NASCAR – through a work assignment. Unlike with NASCAR back in 2005, it was not a bucket of freezing water over the head type rude awakening; I already had an interest and knowledge about the premier North American open wheel series, I just wasn’t an expert. Over the last two years, I’ve very much enjoyed getting to know the intricacies of Indy car racing and becoming an expert (or at least an approximation of one). After all, it’s the nuances that help you truly understand any sport you care to mention. This year, in particular, has been a fascinating season to watch Indy car racing in intensive detail with new engines and engine manufacturers (Chevy and the much maligned Lotus), a new chassis (the DW12); the departure of one Danica Patrick to pastures supposedly lime-greener and of course the tragic death of the popular British champion Dan Wheldon in the 2011 season finale at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. In short, there were plenty of unknowns.

Street courses like the one in Baltimore are a staple of the IZOD IndyCar Series. Is it time for NASCAR to take to the streets as well? Photo courtesy INDYCAR LAT USA

A week from this Saturday, 500 long miles under the lights of the Auto Club Speedway will decide the winner of the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series championship after what has been a fantastic season-long battle between the 2010 and 2011 runner up Will Power, the two-time Series champion, Scott Dixon, three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves and the lone American, Ryan Hunter-Reay or RHR as he’s often known.

Power opened the season strongly winning the second, third and fourth races before RHR picked up his own hat trick, winning at Milwaukee, Iowa and Toronto to haul himself well and truly into contention. In the last two races, both RHR (taken out by an ultra-aggressive move by Alex Tagliani at Sonoma) and Power (unlucky with the rain at Baltimore given his evisceration of the field in practice and qualifying) have suffered varying degrees of misfortune so both drivers head to the final race of the season in Fontana to decide who replaces Dario Franchitti as the champion. An additional quick point to make here on the final race: this will be the first 500-mile race (outside the Indy 500) in more than a decade.

One of the elements I’ve most enjoyed about Indy cars is the variation in the types of courses with three main options: Ovals, road courses at fixed venues such as Sonoma and Mid Ohio and then the temporary street courses. The street course at Long Beach, for example, is rightly famous with nearly four decades of history and it’s always a race worth watching.

This past weekend’s race at Baltimore is another good example – albeit in just the second year of operation. Some aficionados of Indy car complain about the balance between the types of course but overall the variety of tracks, track sizes and shapes and surfaces mean that the driver who wins it all has to be at least proficient on all three and excel at two of the three options whatever the exact schedule.

All this got me thinking – yes, usually a dangerous prospect – wondering what would it be like to have a street course in NASCAR? We do have the two road courses at Sonoma and Watkins Glen, as anyone reading this far undoubtedly knows, but how cool would it be to add a third course in an iconic venue? Talk about interest-generating. My suggestion, then, would be to add a road course in New York City and specifically Manhattan.

NASCAR in New York is not new: Back in 2004 ISC even went as far as purchasing land on Staten Island with the intention of building a short track oval with the famous skyline as a background. After some heated debate, and that’s putting it politely, and much to my chagrin, the project was shelved in 2006. For many years the end of season banquet was also held in the city but to this point we’ve not ever had a race in one of the five boroughs and for me, it’s time that changed.

My proposed location for the course would be in the very downtown part of Manhattan where the two main west and east side highways meet. You could also run part of the course past the World Trade Center memorial but I’ll leave the actual course design to folks with skills in that area. Now any New Yorkers reading this article (I’m imagining that number I could count on one hand) will no doubt begin to talk about traffic nightmares etc. but the simple truth is downtown (and by that I mean south of Canal Street) is quiet at the weekends with much of the weekly traffic coming from the hundreds of thousands who fill in the high rise offices. NASCAR could easily set up a track starting late Friday evening and dismantle it in time for the Monday morning rush. Other New Yorkers would just complain because they can but, despite my immense love and pride for this city, I would respectfully choose to ignore them.

I’ve long been of the belief that if the mayor announced every New Yorker would be given five hundred bucks just for living here you’d have a small minority who would carp and bitch that it was wrong. You get my point. There would be much gnashing of teeth and much wailing but the fact is Manhattan has always held massive events (like the 40,000 who run the marathon each November) and this would just be another example. So there’s my suggestion. I can’t see it happening (although the New Jersey Formula One race next year gives me some hope) but I would love this idea to come to fruition. I really think it would be one of the most iconic and interesting new venues in many a year.

One final point this week: I’m really looking forward to the race at Richmond this Saturday night. For me, Richmond is one of the top three circuits on the NASCAR schedule – a race that rarely disappoints and harkens back to the illustrious short track history of our great sport. Here’s hoping for some fireworks under the lights as the wild card spots for the Chase get set and we move inexorably to the final ten races of the year.

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09/05/2012 09:13 AM

An abundance of street courses is a mistake for Indycar, because they’re mostly processional. But have you ever seen the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series at Trois-Rivieres or the Toronto Indy? Some of the most exciting racing you’ll ever see, beating and banging, scraping up and down walls, inches from disaster—it’s breathtaking.

So yes, I’d rather they not race a dozen of them, but one or two on the NASCAR schedule would be awesome (and more road courses period!)

09/05/2012 01:07 PM

You know, I was thinking the same thing this weekend… for a series whose cars are supposed to resemble the ones we drive every day, they should really have a street course or two.

A lot of the IndyCar tracks seem better suited to stock cars; close quarters racing and incidental contact don’t require pit stops for replacement front wings when the cars have fenders.

09/05/2012 01:49 PM

No offense but this idea is nuts. I don’t think big bulky stock cars would put on much of show on a street course other than piling up in narrow breaking zones. Stock cars work on road course because they have more forgiving passing zones and generous runoffs in case of trouble. Open wheel can do street courses because of their smaller size and lighter weight. I think there would be a huge safety issue trying to contain big stock cars with temporary wall (sans safety barriers).

As far as NYC, there would be riot if they decided to close down Manhattan streets for a weekend of “NASCAR”. Heck when they tried to build a track in Staten Island there was a near riot in the zoning board meeting.

Interesting though but very impractical.

Kevin in SoCal
09/05/2012 03:55 PM

New York City sucks for more reasons than this, but it would be a terrible place for a NASCAR race. You would have more success on a street course in Texas or Georgia.

09/05/2012 05:31 PM

Manhattan would be a perfect venue for NASCAR-they already run “taxis” there every day.

Sandeep Banerjee
09/06/2012 10:26 AM

Like John said, watch a Canadian Tire Series race at Trois Rivieres before you pass up stock car street racing as a bad idea.

Indycars have been a lot better this year. Wish they had a few more ovals now that they’ve finally gotten their oval package to where you actually have to drive the car and take care of tyres.

09/06/2012 12:31 PM

Kevin in SoCal-
I agree with you on location. Atlanta has some nice wide streets, it’s not as flat, and they closed off a couple of streets earlier this year for Red Bull’s soapbox races, so there’s at least some sort of precedent.

Don Mei
09/06/2012 03:27 PM

Danny, why reinvent the wheel? A Formula 1 course is already laid out in New Jersey just across the river from Manhattan. It has civic and governmental support and would be a lot easier to organize and put together. I should mention also that running on a street course is a super high. I ran the Pittsburgh Vintage Gran Prix this summer with my 240z. Its a 2.3 mile track laid out through Schenley Park in the center of Pittsburgh. Small time but the experience of a lifetime.

Don Mei
09/06/2012 03:30 PM

PS: Ive gone to Montreal twice for the Nationwide race. Fabulous event in a fabulous city. NASCAR simply needs to learn the definition of a “local yellow” to make the racing better.

Bronx Joe
09/07/2012 09:14 PM

Being from NYC the idea of a street race in lower Manhattan has always been a novel one to fantasize about. Once passed the obvious hurdles of shutting down a portion of the city, traffic snarls, New Yorker indifference towards racing of any kind, bumpy-cobblestoned-need to be repaved streets, an incredible sanction fee, there is one that I believe is overlooked.

More than any other metropolis NYC, particularly Manhattan is a city of tall buildings and skyscrapers. Sightlines would be obscured and quite diminished, if there at all. The erecting of grandstands would also be a tough prospect as empty spaces large enough are not there. Using the lower West Side Highway could work, but once you turn the course almost anywhere toward the center of Manhattan those two issues will present itself.

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