|If IndyCar wants to race at a slew of ISC tracks, the rumors of the France family buying IndyCar need to come true and they need to put a huge effort into making them successful. If they own the series they will have a vested interest in its success.|
Jay Frye still had the stack of black IndyCar caps after the press conference. Watkins Glen International had just been announced, a year earlier than expected, as a replacement in the 2016 Labor Day slot vacated by the abortive Grand Prix of Boston, and track president Michael Printup, after a May news conference at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, was still conducting interviews about the return of open-wheel racing to the storied road course.
IndyCar had been in a bind, with Boston marking the second race in two years cancelled either just before or during the season of its scheduled running. But Frye, IndyCar's president of competition and operations, had not been forced to Watkins Glen hat in hand, having established the groundwork a year earlier for a return to a New York venue where Formula 1, CART and IndyCar began establishing an open-wheel legacy in the 1960s. He had re-established contact with a crucial part of IndyCar's past and, arguably, it's future in International Speedway Corp., which owns 13 tracks including Watkins Glen. And in doing that, the long-time NASCAR team executive might have helped IndyCar finally eradicate its image – and continuity- damaging problem of losing street course races, some before they ever occur. All it required was a call last summer to ISC president John Saunders, whose purview includes long-term strategies.
"They own racetracks and we race cars. It's a good, fit, huh?," Frye told USA TODAY Sports. "When we first talked with John, the first two on the list we wanted to talk about were Phoenix and Watkins Glen, so here we go. We got them done. Now we can't be more proud of where we're at, we can't be more enthused about the future with those two venues and then whatever else might happen after that. But the relationship I think is great. It's as solid as it could be and I'm really looking forward to the future."
Saunders declined interview requests through an ISC media representative.
ISC's portfolio offers multiple types and lengths of tracks that could appeal to IndyCar, but Frye already has two previous markets prioritized.
"I think you have to look at the Homesteads, the Richmonds again," Frye said. "There's other ones. It's not reinventing the wheel."
Homestead, a 1.5-mile, variably banked oval, hosted IndyCar races from 2001-2010, the first eight early-season installments in March or April, the final two in October as the last races of the season. HMS president Matt Becherer told USA TODAY Sports that he's not directly discussed an IndyCar return to his track for two years and said the template of NASCAR's Industry Action Plan would help determine if the series could provide similar benefit to that of Sprint Cup's season-ending, three-series championship weekend.
"There is no clear path," Becherer said of HMS returning to the schedule. "Certainly, whether it starts with John or starts with me, there would be an analysis with both of us. I think a year ago it went through John just because it was one-stop shopping. Make one call and you can cover five venues. We certainly work with sanctioning bodies here all the time and would certainly be happy to have that conversation whether it's through us or (ISC headquarters in) Daytona."
St. Petersburg, Fla., has hosted IndyCar's opener by plan or necessity since 2011, inhabiting a mid-March-to-early April slot. Becherer said March dates, which in the past had coincided with preseason testing at HMS, would likely be preferable. A glutted sports entertainment market in South Florida at that time will soon thin with the PGA event at Doral relocating to Mexico City after 54 years, but Becherer added, "we need to have a conversation and see what we're really even talking about."
That's not to say Becherer doesn't have ideas. Homestead has in other series fielded races on its 1.5-mile oval and 2.2-mile road course on the same day because changeover can be accomplished in roughly 45 minutes.
"If we were to do something, we would want to do it right and make it special," he said. "Maybe that plays a role somehow. How cool would it be to do a doubleheader where you do an oval race and then a road course race the same day?"
Two ISC venues — Phoenix and Watkins Glen — and Iowa Speedway, owned by a NASCAR subsidiary which like the promoter is controlled by the France family, currently hold IndyCar races. Phoenix rejoined this season. Auto Club Speedway, which fielded eight races from 2002-2015, was dropped by mutual consent after last season. Richmond, a 0.75-mile oval, held IndyCar races from 2001-2009, all in late June, and like Homestead, struggled with poor attendance. Brant James/USA Today