IndyCar: Gabby Chaves gets a crucial second test, this time with BHA

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Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires champion Gabby Chaves will have his second run in an IndyCar when he tests for Bryan Herta Autosport on December 17 at Sebring International Raceway.

Chaves enters the test fresh off a win in the Six Hours of Bogota sports car race in Colombia – more here from

The Colombian American had his first go for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports also in Florida, at the Homestead-Miami Speedway road course in September.

Chaves was pleased with his efforts at the time, as he said “it didn’t feel like his first time” in an IndyCar. Additionally, his efforts really pleased SPM team manager Rob Edwards.

“I was happy we could give Gabby an opportunity,” Edwards told MotorSportsTalk when SPM announced James Hinchcliffe’s signing at Flat 12 Bierworks in Indianapolis in October.

“We ran him in Lights 2013. I thought it was interesting running him. Him having two years in Lights definitely benefitted him.

“With his level of maturity, and his approach to the whole test, he’s deserving of an opportunity in a big car for sure.”

This will be an important test for Chaves because both BHA and SPM have a seat open for 2015. BHA has its single car to fill and SPM’s second seat is open alongside Hinchcliffe.

While Chaves will have $750,000 in scholarship funding to bring to a team after winning the title on the highest rung of the Mazda Road to Indy ladder, that’s not necessarily a guarantee of a full-time seat in the championship.

Witness Chaves’ ex-SPM Lights teammate Sage Karam being unable to put together a full-season program for 2014, although he was able to debut strongly at the Indianapolis 500.

Chaves said after winning the Indy Lights title he’ll do the Indianapolis 500 for sure, with other races to be determined depending, as always, on funding.

However Chaves’ path is already starting to look similar to Jack Hawksworth’s, who was in a similar position last year, and that’s a good thing.

The lanky Englishman – and another of Chaves’ 2013 SPM Indy Lights teammates – had tests for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and Dale Coyne Racing in similar time frames (September and December 2013), before a last-minute surprise test with Herta’s team in the spring led to his shot there.

As we saw this season, Hawksworth overachieved on a single-car team and was able to move on after one season, from BHA into a second seat with A.J. Foyt Enterprises.

Chaves beat Hawksworth head-to-head that Indy Lights season in 2013, finishing only behind Karam, and is next up on the list of drivers deserving of an IndyCar opportunity.

One other thing to note – Chaves will be testing a day after SPM tries out Italian Davide Valsecchi does on the same course. Times won’t be official, but it will be very intriguing to watch how both potential rookies fare in their outings.

It’s a bit like Grapefruit League spring training in baseball, except in winter, since it’s a case of young talent seeing if they can break into the big leagues.

American Flat Track puts emphasis on fans in building 2020 schedule

American Flat Track
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American Flat Track put an emphasis on fans and feedback from other series while also acknowledging everything is tentative while hammering out its schedule for the 2020 season.

The 18-race schedule over nine weekends will begin July 17-18 at Volusia Speedway Park in Barberville, Florida, about 20 miles from AFT’s headquarters in Daytona Beach, Florida.

The dirt track motorcycle racing series, which is sanctioned by AMA Pro Racing, shares a campus with its sister company, NASCAR, and American Flat Track CEO Michael Lock said the series closely observed how it’s handled races in its return during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and also built AFT’s procedures from NASCAR’s post-pandemic playbook of more than 30 pages.

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“I speak personally to the committee within NASCAR that has been put together for the restart, regularly talking to the communications people, general counsel and other relevant operations departments,” Lock told “So we’ve derived for Flat Track from NASCAR’s protocols, which I think are entirely consistent with all the other pro sports leagues that are attempting to return.

“Obviously with NASCAR the scale of the business is completely different. There were some times more people involved in the paddock and the race operations for NASCAR than the numbers of people at flat track. Our scale is much smaller, and our venues are generally smaller. So we can get our hands around all of the logistics. I think we’re very confident on that.”

While NASCAR has had just under 1,000 on site for each of its races without fans, Lock said American Flat Track will have between 400 to 500 people, including racers, crews, officials and traveling staff.

But another important difference from NASCAR (which will run at least its first eight races without crowds) is that American Flat Track intends to have fans at its events, though it still is working with public health experts and government officials to determine how many will be allowed and the ways in which they will be positioned (e.g., buffer zones in the grandstands).

Lock said capacity could will be limited to 30-50 percent at some venues.

American Flat Track will suspend its fan track walk, rider autograph sessions for the rest of the season, distribute masks at the gates and also ban paper tickets and cash for concessions and merchandise. Some of the best practices were built with input from a “Safe to Race Task Force” that includes members from various motorcycle racing sanctioning bodies (including Supercross and motocross).

There also will be limitations on corporate hospitality and VIP access and movement.

“I think everything the fans will see will be unusual,” Lock said. “Everything at the moment is unusual. We will roll out processes that are entirely consistent with the social distancing guidelines that will be in place at the time of the event. So we’re planning for a worst-case scenario. And if things are easier or better by the time we go to a venue, it’s a bonus.”

Lock said the restrictions are worth it because (unlike other racing series) AFT must have fans (even a limited number) for financial viability.

“We took a decision fairly early on in this process that it was neither desirable nor economically viable to run events without fans,” Lock said. “I can think of some big sports like NFL or like NASCAR where a huge chunk of that revenue is derived from broadcast, which means that your decision making as to how you run an event, where you can run an event has a different view than a sport like ours, or even like baseball, for example, that needs fans. Because the business model is so different.”

Broadcast coverage is important to American Flat Track, which added seven annual races over the past five years and can draw as many as 15,000 to its biggest events.

Lock said AFT ended the 2019 season with more than 50,000 viewers for each live event, making it the No. 1 property on FansChoice.TV. This year, the series has moved to TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold. “We’re expecting a really strong audience from Day 1, particularly with all this pent-up demand,” Lock said.

NBCSN also will broadcast a one-hour wrap-up of each race (covering heat races and main events).

Because the season is starting three months late, the doubleheader weekends will allow AFT to maintain its schedule length despite losing several venues. And there could be more, Lock said, noting that there still are three TBA tracks.

“There may still be some surprises to come from one venue or another of delay or cancellation,” he said. “But we are intending to run as full a season as possible.”

Here is the American Flat Track schedule for 2020:

July 17-18 (Friday-Saturday): Volusia Speedway Park, Barberville, Florida

July 31-Aug. 1 (Friday-Saturday):  Allen County Fairgrounds, Lima, Ohio

Aug. 28-29 (Friday-Saturday): TBA, Northeast United States

Sept. 5-6 (Saturday-Sunday): Illinois State Fairgrounds, Springfield, Illinois

Sept. 11-12 (Friday-Saturday): Williams Grove Speedway, Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania

Sept. 25-26 (Friday-Saturday): TBA, Texas

Oct. 2-3 (Friday-Saturday): Dixie Speedway, Woodstock, Georgia

Oct. 9-10 (Friday-Saturday): TBA, North Carolina

Oct. 15-16 (Thursday-Friday): AFT season finale, Daytona Beach, Florida