Voices From The Heartland · Jeff Meyer · Wednesday April 11, 2007
As I scanned the news tidbits in search of an idea for this week's thought provoking edition of Voices, one snippet of information jumped up and caught my eye. It was the announcement that Rusty Wallace and his company, RWI, hady been contracted by Riverside Motorsports Park to both consult on and develop an oval track in Northern California.
The reason I found this interesting is because RWI's most recent success story is located right here in the Midwest; in fact, it’s just barely an hour's drive from Frontstretch.com's Iowa offices (in other words, my house!) That success story is none other than the Iowa Speedway in Newton, Iowa, just east of Des Moines.
Without going into too many specifics, Iowa Speedway is a 7/8 mile tri-oval with 12 - 14 degrees of compound banking in the turns. It is a “state of the art” racing facility that was completed after only 18 months of construction, and has already hosted ARCA races, Car of Tomorrow testing, and Indy Car testing, with variable degrees of success. The Indy Cars may have been the most impressive of them all so far, reaching speeds upwards of 185 MPH during their time on the oval!
Now entering its second year of operation, Iowa is scheduled to host races featuring many different series such as ARCA, Indy Car, NASCAR Grand National East / West, Hooter Pro Cup, USAC, and the Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series, just to name a few. Currently, it boasts permanent seating for 25,000, with plenty of room for more in the future.
I personally covered the ARCA race that was held there last year, and can honestly say that nary a negative word was said about the place by media, competitors, or fans. Simply put, it is an awesome facility that has nothing but growth in its future. (For more info, go to www.iowaspeedway.com).
Now, in Northern California, the same type of success story is poised to take place.
At Riverside Motorsports Park, in addition to the 1/4-mile drag strip, the speedway will hold integrated 1/3 and 1/2-mile banked paved oval tracks for stock cars and sprint cars; a 3/8-mile dirt oval track for motorcycle, stock car, sprint, and midget racing; a 3/4-mile karting course for sprint and shifter karts; a 1/2-mile motocross and 1/8-mile BMX course; and, as if that’s not enough, a one-mile off-road course for trucks, buggies, and rally cross cars. Up for another challenge, the same team that designed Iowa's racing jewel will then design the main attraction that proves to be Riverside’s crowning achievement: a 7/8-mile world class tri-oval presumably identical to its sister track.
Well, all this news got me to thinking: perhaps NASCAR should take notes.
While the necessary permits and other red tape has taken some time to get pushed through in California, just as it did here in Iowa, there never was the “jam it down your throat” mentality employed by Wallace’s developers in getting this project off the ground. You know, the kind of “we’re here, deal with it” approach that NASCAR seems to relish despite coming up emptyhanded more than ever as of late; instead, a kinder, gentler strategy was used to win fans over in each area. Not surprisingly, both projects (Iowa and California) have widely been hailed by the public as a good thing since the start.
Additionally, the fans of NASCAR, the ones that feed the beast with their hard earned dollars, have long tired of NASCAR's patented “cookie cutter” tracks and have, for at least a decade, clamored for shorter length facilities. At 7/8 of a mile, while not the “short track” style of Bristol or Martinsville, the new track in Iowa appears to offer spectacular racing, much preferred by those in attendance to NASCAR's recipe of 1 Â½ mile “cookie cutters.”
While neither Iowa Speedway (at the present time) or the new Riverside Motorsports Park have any sought after Cup dates, nor will any presumably be awarded in their immediate future, I will bet my bottom dollar (which happens to be the one in my pocket at the moment) that you WILL see them hosting a Craftsman Truck race and a Busch race within the next five years (for Iowa, anyway). As the seating around these new venues grow, these new tracks may be something that NASCAR cannot ignore, especially when faced with continuous pressure to diversify itself.
To be honest, Rusty’s architectural prowess may be just what the sport needs; NASCAR has proven that they are just as inept at building race tracks as they sometimes seem to be at running races. Perhaps it is time for them to step back, forget their grandiose schemes of so called “major” markets, and reap the harvest of dollar bills where both track developers and local governments have worked hand-in-hand to give the true fans a facility and atmosphere that is truly welcomed.
(Just don't hold your breath for it!)
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