With the NASCAR national series and the NTT IndyCar Series off during the Summer Olympics, the ARCA Menards Series is the only series that continues to race during this time. Moreover, ARCA was the only series this year to race at Iowa Speedway. The 0.875-mile short track hosted ARCA for the 15th time, and Ty Gibbs went to victory lane on Saturday (July 24) night.
The track, owned by NASCAR, had the opportunity to shine. With a reported seating capacity of 30,000 and the grandstands opened to full capacity, the Shore Lunch 150 could have shined in racing action with a packed crowd cheering at a short track. Instead, the attendance mirrored the race itself, which Gibbs led 149 of the 150 laps: yawn.
Runner-up Daniel Dye told ARCA Racing, “I’m racing in front of 5,000 fans.” While the attendance from the race cannot be verified, it was a paltry amount.
Should racing return to this track in Newton, Iowa in the future?
Thank you for making the #ShoreLunch150 a memorable event for us. We appreciate your support and dedication to the Fastest Short Track on the Planet and look forward to seeing you again. Have a safe and wonderful remainder of your 2021!
— Iowa Speedway (@iowaspeedway) July 25, 2021
“It’s impossible to foretell what the 2022 schedule looks like at all,” ARCA Communications Manager Charlie Krall told Frontstretch.
For a standalone ARCA event, it is not worthwhile. Yes, there were 23 competitors, but the entry list benefitted from a combined field of drivers from ARCA and the ARCA Menards Series East. According to Venturini Motorsports co-owner Billy Venturini, this track hosting a combination race did not add any hype to this race, nor is this racetrack one of the crown jewels on the ARCA schedule.
“It’s not [important to the ARCA schedule],” Venturini told Frontstretch. “This is a racetrack. It’s a nice facility and I’m glad we race here, but it’s not one of the cornerstones of this series.”
While it may not be a cornerstone, it is important to ARCA.
“This is a very important market for us,” Krall said. “We were the first series to race here in 2006. We love coming to Iowa, there are a lot of great race fans here. This is a huge market for Menards, which is always important to us. We have some sponsors that love being visible here in the Des Moines area.”
Newton is a little more than 30 miles away from Des Moines. But Newton itself only has a population of approximately 15,000. The infrastructure in the area is not enough to have a full race weekend that features the NASCAR Cup Series, NASCAR Xfinity Series, NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and ARCA.
Gibbs himself concurs.
“They’d need more grandstands for a Cup race,” he told media post-race. “Overall, Rusty Wallace and all those guys did a great job building this racetrack. It is a fun time. I always love coming here.”
Not only do teams enjoy competing at Iowa Speedway, the racing action itself is typically good — Gibbs’ recent dominance notwithstanding.
“It’s so different where you run at on this track, all the bumps, it has a big personality on this track,” Gibbs said.
“It’s not really like anything we race at,” Venturini added. “It is similar to Richmond Raceway. It is a nice racy track that usually puts on a good show. It is good that it has got its own surface, which usually makes for better racing. “It still has a lot of attraction to drivers ’cause it’s a great racetrack; it’s racy so those skills coincide with other tracks they’ll go to.”
So, if the racing is good but the area isn’t big enough and the attendance is abysmal, what are some solutions to make Iowa a prominent destination on series’ schedules?
First, continue to run the ARCA race as a combination race with the East series. ARCA car counts have been scrutinized, and the East regulars competing against the main series drivers increases both the quality and quantity of competition.
Next, run that race on a Friday night as part of a combination race weekend. Short track racing under the lights has always been popular.
Although both the Xfinity Series and Truck Series previously raced at Iowa, the Truck Series raced at nearby Knoxville Raceway this year. Knoxville is only about 30 miles south of Iowa, so it is not sensible to run two summer races at two close tracks.
Rather, run the ARCA race on Friday night, then run the Xfinity Series race at Iowa on Saturday night. The Xfinity Series raced at Atlanta Motor Speedway this year on Saturday, July 10. Would fans prefer to sweat in Atlanta or at least enjoy short track racing on a summer night at Iowa? Personally, I would favor the Iowa choice.
Most of the ARCA race winners at Iowa have been successful in moving up the NASCAR ladder. So an Xfinity Series race paired with an ARCA race would give those drivers the chance to race on the track again. Moreover, some of the inexperienced Xfinity drivers might compete in that ARCA race to log more laps there.
In addition, Iowa desperately needs industry-wide promotion. Yes, there were a few big names at the ARCA race, including NASCAR Hall of Fame member Joe Gibbs, but NASCAR must promote Iowa.
— Mark Kristl (@MarkKristl) July 25, 2021
Gibbs won, but did any JGR Cup driver tweet congratulations to him or promote the notion that NASCAR should be racing at Iowa? Did any Cup driver openly advocate for NASCAR to return to Iowa during the ARCA race? No.
For Iowa to be successful in the future, NASCAR as an industry needs to encourage the promotion of the track. It is hard to become passionate or advocate for something when there is silence.
If NASCAR is not racing at Iowa, then series executives have truly ignored short tracks on its schedules. Instead, they are focused on turning a short track into a dirt track, adding more road courses to the schedule, and reconfiguring Atlanta without consulting drivers.
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