IndyCar: Herta focused on building future with Chaves before expanding

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Each of the last three seasons, Bryan Herta has entered the year with a different driver or engine than he did at the previous season opener.

And 2015 is no different. But ideally for the single-car Bryan Herta Autosport team, it will be the beginning of a longer-term, more continuous relationship between team and driver.

Alex Tagliani drove a Lotus powerplant for BHA for the team’s first full-time season in 2012. A year later, Tagliani entered with a Honda engine. Jack Hawksworth was the surprise pick to start 2014, emerging ahead of Tagliani’s replacements JR Hildebrand and Luca Filippi.

Now this year, it’s Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires champion Gabby Chaves who’s starting the year in the No. 98 Dallara-Honda, and Herta hopes this is the start of a longer period together.

“For us, it comes down to getting the best guy in our car we can get,” Herta said during Wednesday’s INDYCAR teleconference. “I’m pleased with where we ended up. I think he’s a guy we want to try to hang on to for several years to come. We want to build and grow together.”

Chaves, for his part, has been performing for the better part of three years building to this stage. The Colombian American moved back stateside after a year in GP3, and ended second in Pro Mazda in 2012 and second in Indy Lights in 2013 before emerging as champion last year.

“The relief (of signing) is only temporary,” Chaves said. “As soon as the deal is done, you have to focus on what’s next. It’s been a long journey… there has been a lot of sacrifice to get here.”

Without the $750,000 scholarship from Mazda in hand, there’s no guarantee Chaves would have been able to move up, even after two tests (second was with BHA). Chaves thanked Mazda for that, and also extolled the Mazda Road to Indy ladder, noting the number of talented drivers who are recent IndyCar graduates and on the way.

“If I’m honest, without it, it would be very hard to make a deal happen anywhere,” Chaves said. “I’m thankful that program exists. It’s not only in Indy Lights but the whole Mazda Road to Indy coming together very strong, ever since my first year in Pro Mazda in 2012. You get familiarized with tracks, the people and the whole atmosphere. It just makes my transition that much easier.

“Jack Hawksworth and Carlos Munoz have also demonstrated the quality of drivers that we’re feeding into IndyCar is very high. There’s … Zach (Veach), and you’d like to see Sage (Karam) have a ride as well. He’s a deserving champion. We want all these guys to have a ride. They’re the eventual future stars.”

As for Herta, he’s focused on Chaves solely for 2015. The team will add a second car for Jay Howard at the Indianapolis 500 – a first for the team – but chances of a second car for further races, or an Indy Lights program, are back burner items until 2016 most likely.

“We are running a second car in the speedway, which is a first for us,” Herta said. “We want to keep the focus on Gabby and do everything we can for him. We’d like to be a two-car team sooner rather than later. Maybe we run later in the year for a full two-car program next year.

“For Lights, we’re open to coming back. We wouldn’t exist wihout it. I really think the new car is a huge plus for the series. But from our standpoint, we needed to take a step back from it so we could step forward on the IndyCar program this year. Hopefully we come back to Indy Lights at some point in the future.”

Herta also praised John Dick, who he has hired as Todd Malloy’s replacement to engineer Chaves in his rookie season.

“John was with us at the Sebring test,” Herta said. “I’ve known him for many years. But I never worked with him when I was driving.

“When we were looking for the right combination… we wanted to sign a driver first, then make sure we find the people that fit him. Gabby is good with John. Frankly we wanted a lot of experience  around Gabby. He has been with IndyCar a long time, and will help Gabby as he’s learning.”

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