Herta’s “eclectic” Thursday features GRC launch, Walk of Fame honor and Indy 500 second car out

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LONG BEACH, Calif. – Native Californian Bryan Herta, the former IndyCar and sports car driver and current team owner, had his home state toss up one of the crazier days on record for him this Thursday.

The Thursday ahead of this weekend’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach featured Herta getting inducted into the Long Beach Motorsports Walk of Fame, officially confirming the withdrawal of his team’s second IndyCar for the Indianapolis 500, and the official launch of Bryan Herta Rallysport, which will feature two cars in Red Bull Global Rallycross and a third car in GRC Lites.

“It’s been one of the most eclectic days for sure,” Herta told MotorSportsTalk at Thursday’s Red Bull GRC Media Day. “It’s super cool. I was super thrilled to join the Walk of Fame. It’s been a huge day for me. Long Beach is my home race.”

Herta never had the luck on race day despite some ridiculous pace over a three-year stretch from 1998 through 2000.

He scored the pole in 1998 but fell to third in the waning stages of the race as Alex Zanardi completed a legendary comeback drive to win, with Dario Franchitti finishing second for what was his first career CART podium. Herta was third again driving for Bobby Rahal a year later, and in 2000, finished fifth in a stand-in role for Derrick Walker’s team.

Today though wasn’t so much about the past, as Herta explained how important it was to finally confirm the new team in Red Bull GRC, where Herta partners with Steve Jones of 7R, Inc. in the team. He joins Chip Ganassi, Michael Andretti and James “Sulli” Sullivan as IndyCar owners in Red Bull GRC.

“We’re super excited to finally announce this,” he said. “I’ve been bursting at the seems to be able to talk about this.

“It’s not just entering the series, but we’re entering with a super competitive package of cars, drivers and sponsors. I just feel like this takes us to next level in terms of a race team.”

Patrik Sandell will be in the No. 18 Kobalt Tools Ford Fiesta ST, with Austin Dyne in the No. 14 Castrol MAGNATEC Ford Fiesta ST in Red Bull GRC. Collete Davis, a former open-wheel driver, will be in the No. 07 River Racing entry in GRC Lites.

One entry not happening for the team is its second Indianapolis 500 car, which had been slated for Englishman Jay Howard but has now been withdrawn. Herta explained the situation.

“It got really late,” Herta said. “We’d announced we were gonna run Jay. We thought we had a deal to do that. A partner scaled back what they were able to do.

“For me it was an easy decision to focus on one car, because we have a lot going on. We tried to leave it as late as we could. Frankly, Jay deserves a good shot and we had hoped to do it for him this year.”

The Howard withdrawal will leave Gabby Chaves in No. 98 Bowers & Wilkins/Curb Honda as a rookie on a single-car team, with BHA likely one of just two single-car team entrants (Lazier Partners Racing) slated for the month of May.

The Red Bull GRC season begins May 31 in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., and will provide Herta’s squad – and the Ganassi, Andretti and SH squads – a double barrel weekend of action in one fell swoop. IndyCar will have a doubleheader race on Belle Isle Park at Detroit that weekend.

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 NBCSports.com. “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