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Q&A: Watkins Glen president Michael Printup on IndyCar return

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It was simply spectacular for the Verizon IndyCar Series to be back at Watkins Glen International this weekend, and after only a three-month buildup from an eleventh-hour deal to get the track on as a replacement round for the cancelled Boston race.

We caught up with track president Michael Printup just before the race, the INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen presented by Hitachi, for some thoughts on how the actual realization of the weekend matched up to the buildup.

MotorSportsTalk: So, it’s real, and we’re actually here for IndyCar at Watkins Glen. How awesome is it to be standing here at this moment?

Michael Printup: “You know I saw Scott Dixon last night, it was late, and he had a bigger smile than me and I said, ‘You can’t do that! because I’m happier!” and he’s like ‘No, we’re happy!’ and I’m like ‘Congratulations.’ We knew [the fastest average speed lap] was going to be broken. What’s even more exciting and George [Bruggenthies, Road America track president] is down over around the corner here, I was talking to him a little bit ago, and I said ‘You know we broke your record?’ I said “I’m not rubbing it in! Now I didn’t do anything, but obviously Scott broke the North American record and let alone breaking the Watkins Glen record. It gives me chills, it gives me chills to the time. I’m very humbled and pleased with what’s happening this weekend.”

MST: One of the event notes that occurred was Hitachi being named presenting sponsor on Friday. How did that come together?

MP: “INDYCAR has been awesome in that. We’re both sharing the responsibility of promoting this and to get Hitachi to come on along with their other sponsors with Verizon and everyone else that’s involved with them, just an awesome experience.”

MST: Is the crowd what you hoped?

MP: “I’ve been watching, there have been traffic issues at the gate since 8am this morning – which is a good thing. We don’t get data right away, but I’ll get it tonight. We kind of knew the walk-up would be nice today. I’m happy, but of course every promoter wants more. With 90 days, I’m not disappointed at all, Jay [Frye’s] not, Mark [Miles] is not. We solidified our future. Give us a year to get this tucked in our belt and we’ll make it bigger and better next year.

MST: That’s just it… this isn’t a one-shot deal but with a two-year extension and Gov. Andrew Cuomo involved, there’s a future road map here… 

MP: “That’s big. He’s a big sports car fan and IndyCar fan. He’d have been here this weekend but he had a business trip to Italy this weekend so he couldn’t go. Monza, maybe? [laughter].

“He’s a big fan. I called him the night before I came down to Indianapolis, I didn’t want him surprised. I said, ‘I’m going down to sign the Indy deal, can you give me some help later on?’ I said, ‘I’m going to go sign it now and we’ll see what happens. His comment back to me was ‘can I go with you?’ – he was that excited. I said, ‘Probably not this time, I hate to tell a governor no. For the New York governor to go down to Indy to make the announcement with Jay Frye and I, I thought that was pretty cool.”

MST: Is it too early to start thinking of other series on this weekend next year? Of course we’ve had Indy Lights and a regional Ferrari Club of America here this weekend.

MP: “It’s a mesh. It’s been going on. I haven’t met with INDYCAR yet. Obviously we have the Indy Lights, we know Indy Lights is coming back next year. I’ve met with Dan and Jay and talked about the [Pro] Mazda and the USF2000s. So we know we want them there, so we’re going to figure out how to make it happen. We haven’t solidified it yet, but we’ll make it happen.

MST: Six years since the last race, what’s the personal and track excitement level of adding this classic venue back?

MP: “Take the company aspect away from this, from a personal point of view, I’m with you 100 percent. Having the schedule locked up, being a huge IndyCar fan since I was a little kid, a CART fan, having started my career with Roger Penske at California Speedway, it was all about open-wheel for me. It’s awesome. That’s personal. The schedule is awesome. I love Gateway. I love Road America. George is probably one of the best promoters in the country. To see this, now I know I can pick my schedule, I can know where I can go see IndyCar races. I’m excited.”

Provisional Indy Lights champion Oliver Askew ready for IndyCar ride

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Provisional Indy Lights champion Oliver Askew has done nothing but dominate the 2019 season, winning seven of the 16 races run so far and finishing on the podium in all but two of those events.

Now all the 22-year-old Floridian needs to do to formally clinch the 2019 title is simply start the final two races of the season, both of which will be held this weekend at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.

For Askew, his maiden Indy Lights season will likely be one he’ll never forget. 

“It’s been a dream come true,” Askew told NBC Sports. “Being with the championship-winning team from last year, we had a really good shot at winning it again for Andretti Autosport. It’s very rare that we show up to a track and struggle to find speed. 

“That’s a fantastic feeling, especially as a driver. That gave me a lot of confidence and hopes of holding the million dollar check at the end of the year. That was the goal going into it.”

This weekend, Askew will accomplish said goal. The championship will not only bring him a sense of pride, but also the opportunity of a lifetime. 

As an award for being crowned the Indy Lights champion, Askew will be awarded a scholarship that guarantees him entry into a minimum of three NTT IndyCar Series events next year – including the 104th running of the Indianapolis 500. 

Time will only tell which team Askew will race for in IndyCar next season, and whether or not Askew’s rookie campaign will be a full-time or part-time affair, but Askew’s performance during the last few seasons in the Road to Indy system has certainly drawn attention of IndyCar’s top team owners.

In August, Askew had the chance to drive an Indy car for the first time in his career during a test session at Portland International Raceway, driving the No. 9 PNC Bank Honda usually piloted by Scott Dixon.

“It was an opportunity with Chip Ganassi Racing that I was very fortunate to have,” Askew said. “I think with my experience in the past couple of years with Cape Motorsports and this year with Andretti Autosport, going into that test was very helpful.

“Going into the test, it was more of trying to treat it as just another day at the racetrack, when it really wasn’t. It was a fantastic opportunity for me – a great experience – and I hope I can take that into my rookie season next year in IndyCar.” 

The final two races of the 2019 Indy Lights season will take place this weekend on Saturday, September 21 at 6 p.m. ET and Sunday, September 22 at 12:05 p.m. ET. Both races will air live on NBC Sports Gold.

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