IndyCar’s Mark Miles details pros, cons and difficulties of scheduling specific tracks

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Hulman & Co. CEO Mark Miles talked with media members Wednesday about the finer points of scheduling in the Verizon IndyCar Series.

He discussed many different tracks the series has raced on in the past, present and those it could return to in the future.

Auto Club Speedway (on schedule in some form off/on since 1997, IRL, CART and INDYCAR)

Scheduling – “For them to be successful, it really can’t be in the heat of the summer, and we get that.  So we gotta take that into account and look at the whole of those trade‑offs that we just talked about.  No one individual perspective is going to trump all the others.   

Attendance – “This is the third time I’ve been there for an IndyCar race, and I wasn’t wild about the crowd three years ago, but it was reduced, and I’m sure that the schedule and the weather contributed to that. So it is something that has to be taken into account and has to be worked through. It’s certainly not just about the weather, although I’m trying to be quite clear, we know the schedule had a lot to do with it.”

Phoenix International Raceway (not on schedule, last raced at in 2005, IRL)

“I don’t know that there are a lot of options. They’re not much different than Fontana for weather, so it ain’t gonna work in the summer, and they’ve got to work around, from their perspective, understandably, their other especially NASCAR events.

“So I think the focus has to be about them being so far away from their first Cup race as possible, which puts you in early February. So the judgments, or some of the considerations for them are what kind of space do they feel like they need to have between an IndyCar race and a Cup race to make them both successful.

“We would have been there before now if there were a bunch of options to choose from. I don’t think there are. By being willing to start earlier in the year, we talked about right after the Super Bowl, it does open up at least that option from our perspective … but there aren’t it’s not like there is two months between that and their first Cup race, so I think the judgments have to be made primarily by them about whether they can find a way to make ’em both work if that’s the set up. ”

Road America (not on schedule, last raced at in 2007, Champ Car)

“It’s a traditional track that’s had great history for us. We know that a lot of our fans and stakeholders, teams, would like to be there, we would like to be there. We think it’s important to talk with Milwaukee (The Milwaukee at State Fair Park) about that and we have and we do, and I think they understand that proximity can be a good thing, especially when there is cooperation between promoters and there can be a collaborative effort in effect, to build a fan base.

“From a Road America point of view, they don’t have a lot of flexibility on date. I think it’s pretty clear they would like, if we can do it, that they would like us to allow them to combine with their World Challenge event, which they just had, so they’re sort of a target on the board, and the question is, can we hit it? But it’s a focal point of our discussions, and we’re hopeful we can figure that out for next year.”

Milwaukee Mile Speedway (on schedule since 1946 under various sanctioning bodies)

Is Milwaukee a lame duck event?  – “We’re not drawing that line in the sand. I spoke to one of the senior officers of the company that promotes it today, even, and we’re both going to do what we can to see if we can continue to have Milwaukee on the schedule. Again, that’s going to take some, I think, sponsorship and it’s going to take we’re going to have to work on the date.

“This year the date is different and their time is different, and the date is different because, as I understand it, when Labor Day, by virtue of the way the calendar works, not our calendar, but “the calendar” when that moved Labor Day about a week later, the fair sort of moved with it, and our promoters believed that (the race) needed to be after the fair, and as you probably know there are lots of other goings on civically in the summer in Milwaukee as well. So we didn’t have a lot of choice as to where to put it, and they’re trying to combine the vintage car racing with IndyCar to make a terrific weekend, and that had something to do with the date. It also has something to do with the time.

“We know that the IndyCar race is a couple hours later than it has been, and we know that if you are traveling from Chicago or Indianapolis, and you’re trying to get home Sunday night, a couple of hours matters. On the other hand, the promoter definitely wanted to have the vintage racing Saturday. That means we could practice Saturday, and we got to put a lot into Sunday, including qualifying and practice, and that’s how it ended up being later. So as always, lots of moving parts. They’re not secrets, they’re not nefarious, and we hope that we can find ways to find a date where it works better for our promoter and primarily our fans.”

Importance of ovals like Fontana and Milwaukee to schedule

“Keeping the ovals on the schedule is really important to us. There are various ways we can consider helping, supporting them as you probably already know … to some extent we have showed a lot of what I will call ‘flexibility’ in sanction fee pricing in part because of that objective. Whether we can bring some sponsorship you know, there are a lot of points on the spectrum. I don’t believe that actually co-promoting when we are in their market selling tickets for them is our strength, so that seems like a bridge too far, but we care a lot about the ovals being part of the Series, along with the streets and the roads, and we’re going to do whatever we can to ensure that balance.”

Attention NASCAR teams: IMSA drivers available for Daytona!

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NASCAR will be making its debut on the Daytona International Speedway road course next month, and there’s a big fan who’d like to join the historic weekend.

This fan actually has impressive credentials, too — a few thousand laps around the 12-turn, 3.56-mile layout that annually plays host to the Rolex 24 at Daytona in January.

In 2014, the winning GTLM team in the sports car endurance classic included IMSA Porsche driver Nick Tandy, who rabidly has followed NASCAR for more than 30 years since growing up in England.

So why not try racing NASCAR? Especially because Tandy has the weekend of Aug. 14-16 free.

He’s not picky, either — offering up his services on Twitter (as well as those of Porsche teammate Earl Bamber) for an ARCA, Xfinity, trucks or Cup ride.

Tandy’s affinity for American stock-car racing runs deep.

His first trip to the World Center of Racing was as a fan attending the 50th running of the Daytona 500 on Feb. 17, 2008. During Rolex testing in January, Tandy, 35, said he hadn’t missed a Cup race on TV in 15 years.

Among his favorite NASCAR drivers: the Earnhardts, Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch. When IMSA ran the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course in 2014, Tandy stayed a few extra days at the Brickyard and bought Kyle Busch gear for himself and his children.

He briefly took the stage during a NASCAR weekend last October. After IMSA’s season finale at Road Atlanta, Tandy made a few demonstration laps and a burnout in his No. 911 Porsche before the Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway.

He also has some experience in stock cars, having raced Modified-type grass-roots series on England’s quarter-mile short tracks.

Couple that with a Daytona road course record that includes two consecutive podium class finishes (including last Saturday) and a sports car resume with 13 IMSA victories and an overall win in the 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans … and maybe a NASCAR team should take a look.

And Tandy isn’t the only IMSA driver who likely would be available.

Corvette driver Jordan Taylor, who won the 2017 Rolex 24 overall title with Jeff Gordon as a teammate (and the inspiration for his Rodney Sandstrom persona), also tweeted his availability for the weekend on the high banks.

Sports car veteran Andy Lally, a GTD driver with multiple class wins in the Rolex 24 as well as 38 Cup starts (he was the 2011 rookie of the season in NASCAR’s premier series), also hung out his shingle.

There also is AIM Vasser Sullivan’s Jack Hawksworth (who just won at Daytona last Saturday), the Englishman who teamed with Kyle Busch at the Rolex 24 in January and made an Xfinity start at Mid-Ohio last year with Joe Gibbs Racing.

Many sports car drivers (such as Taylor) already live in Florida, and many are hunkering down in the Sunshine State with IMSA returning to action at Daytona last week and Sebring International Raceway next week. Because of COVID-19-related travel concerns and restrictions, several IMSA stars who live outside the country are riding out the pandemic within a few hours of Daytona with nothing to do.

Why not a weekend at the World Center of Racing?

Over the years, scads of “road-course ringers” (including some Formula One veterans) have tried their hands in stock cars at Sonoma Raceway and Watkins Glen International.

How about considering the many sports car drivers who already have reached victory lane at Daytona by making a few right-hand turns, too?