All photos: Route 66 Raceway

Q&A: Scott Paddock on AMSOIL Championship Snocross at Route 66

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Chicagoland Speedway and its sister track, Route 66 Raceway, in Joliet, Ill. are better known for hosting NASCAR, IndyCar and the NHRA.

So as the calendar turns to March, you might be wondering why or how Chicagoland or Route 66 could be used during what’s usually the dead of winter.

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Route 66 comes alive this weekend though with the AMSOIL Championship Snocross series on Friday and Saturday, for the Hollywood Casino Joliet Snocross National presented by Hayes Brake.

It’s the second annual running of the family-friendly event, and provides speed, action and snow racing during the winter months (more information available here and via Route66Raceway.com).

We caught up with track president Scott Paddock for a quick Q&A leading into the event:

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MST: So for a bit of background, explain what this event is and what fans/viewers could expect?

SP: “It’s an amazing event. I think when ISOC, when they looked to expand their footprint to the Chicagoland market, the Speedway was always on their list. As they were looking and surveying the area for a relevant venue, they approached us. We’ve performed some due diligence, and attended a few of their events. We thought, ‘This could be a hit.’

“We introduced it to the market last year. We’re bringing it back for year two because the atmosphere was electric and exciting. The word-of-mouth coming out of the weekend and the feedback was incredible, so we had to bring the event back.

“For the industry, they love the venue. In a lot of their careers, it’s the first time with backdrop of a drag strip there. They’ve contoured a really cool course. There’s some incredible berms, so with action and excitement, it’s a win for our fans and for our drivers.”

MST: How do you put this course together?

SP: “We’ve put a 10-foot base of snow in that we’ve been making since mid-January. It’s about to be there. Last year’s configuration started at south end of the grandstands. We had 15-20 snowmobiles. Hitting it out of the shoot there. They’d go … and intersect. It wasn’t just straightaways. There were plenty of roundabouts and cut-throughs that literally propelled these guys 60 feet in the air.

“We’re literally trajecting the length of an NBA court, 60 feet in the air. It reminded me in some respects of stock car racing, where the field was bunched up or spun out. The analogy was like stock car racing on snowmobiles, however this aerial acrobatics was by design.”

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MST: How do you sell a winter event, since you generally assume there’s no winter track activity?

SP: “You hit on it – it’s a winter event. People have been locked up indoors, for months. Everyone has cabin fever. Local drag racers can’t wait until April. This is a great opportunity to come out with the family, come out to an event that’s indoor/outdoor, where you can have a great time.

“It’s kind of a shiny new toy. The word of mouth is incredible. We’re certainly marketing the event through relevant publications, snowmobile dealers, but we had fans from Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Michigan. They came from far distances to come. It’s not unlike a NASCAR audience that will travel 300 miles.

“We were told by ISOC officials that by year three, these events tend to build hold and equity. It’s tough weather in Februrary, so we moved it back to early March. The forecast looks incredible, with high 30s, low 40s… so perfect conditions.

We thought that the early March timeframe was good. You can still make the snow, but it’s comfortable. There’s still plenty of indoor seating. Club seating, Route 66 suites, and a huge warming tent, with other content, merchandise, food and beverage. ISOC does a great job. It’s a great family environment.”

MST: How are ticket sales going compared to last year? 

SP: “It’s ahead of last year’s race thus far, but it’s definitely a walk-up crowd. If you get the awareness out there, it’s similar to NHRA drag racing. If you’ve got good weather and good marketing, you’ll generally get a good walk-up gate.”

Zach Veach splits with Andretti Autosport for rest of IndyCar season

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Zach Veach will be leaving his Andretti Autosport ride with three races remaining in the season, choosing to explore options after the decision was made he wouldn’t return for 2021.

In a Wednesday release, Andretti Autosport said a replacement driver for the No. 26 Dallara-Honda would be named in the coming days. The NTT IndyCar Series will race Oct. 2-3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and then conclude the season Oct. 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Veach was ranked 11th in the points standings through 11 races of his third season with Andretti. Since a fourth in the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, he hadn’t finished higher than 14th.

“The decision was made that I will not be returning in 2021 with Andretti Autosport in the No. 26 Gainbridge car,” Veach said in the Andretti release. “This, along with knowing that limited testing exists for teams due to COVID, have led me to the decision to step out of the car for the remainder of the 2020 IndyCar season. I am doing this to allow the team to have time with other drivers as they prepare for 2021, and so that I can also explore my own 2021 options.

“This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but to me, racing is about family, and it is my belief that you take care of your family. Andretti Autosport is my family and I feel this is what is best to help us all reach the next step. I will forever be grateful to Michael and the team for all of their support over the years. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for a relationship that started many years ago with Road to Indy. I will also be forever grateful to Dan Towriss for his friendship and for the opportunity he and Gainbridge have given me.

“My love for this sport and the people involved is unmeasurable, and I look forward to continuing to be amongst the racing world and fans in 2021.”

Said team owner Michael Andretti: “We first welcomed Zach to the Andretti team back in his USF2000 days and have enjoyed watching him grow and evolve as a racer, and a person. His decision to allow us to use the last few races to explore our 2021 options shows the measure of his character.

“Zach has always placed team and family first, and we’re very happy to have had him as part of ours for so many years. We wish him the best in whatever 2021 may bring and will always consider him a friend.”

Andretti fields five full-time cars for Veach, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Colton Herta.

It also has fielded James Hinchcliffe in three races this season.