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.
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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