Pigot and Juncos are back together. Photo: Rising Star Racing

Juncos Racing confirms Pigot for Indy 500

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Spencer Pigot and Ricardo Juncos will reunite for Juncos Racing team’s maiden Verizon IndyCar Series race, the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil, as the first of two drivers expected to be announced on Tuesday.

In Pigot, Juncos has a 23-year-old driver who has won him back-to-back titles on the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires in Pro Mazda and Indy Lights, for a quick reunion.

“I am personally very happy to be able to formally announce that Spencer (Pigot) will be driving for Juncos Racing in the 101st running of the Indianapolis 500,” Juncos said in a release. “As most people know, Spencer started with our team in 2003 driving Karts. We reunited in 2014 and won the Pro Mazda Series championship, then Spencer helped us win the Indy Lights team championship in 2015. This is, hopefully, the next step in our successful relationship together.”

“First I want to thank Ricardo (Juncos) for this opportunity. We have had a long, successful relationship from karts to the Mazda Road to Indy series and hopefully we can repeat that success at Indy this month,” Pigot added. “I also want to thank my sponsors, Oceanfront Recovery, Rising Star Racing and P1 Management for making this possible. The Indy 500 is the greatest race in the world and to be able to drive in it again is fantastic. Last year was my first Indy 500 and I learned a lot. I am confident that I will be able to apply what I learned and a better result this time around.”

Pigot and Juncos back again. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Pigot is the full-season driver for Ed Carpenter Racing’s No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet on road and street course races in the Verizon IndyCar Series, but ECR team owner/driver Ed Carpenter held steadfast to its commitment of only running two cars, as first reported by NBC Sports.

“I’d love to see Spencer in the race,” Carpenter said at the time. “Obviously I would have liked to have found enough to have him in one of our cars, but I can’t do it without the right funding to not make it the right thing for the team’s sake, and his sake. I’m not gonna hold him back from any opportunity.”

This left Pigot needing a team to field him if he was to make his second start in the Indianapolis 500, and he will, outside of Carpenter. He ran with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing last year and will saddle up in the No. 11 Oceanfront Recovery Chevrolet for Juncos as another supporter has come through from Rising Star Racing, Pigot’s longtime supporters. The green, white and orange livery is rather similar to Tony Kanaan’s longtime 7-Eleven colors that adorned his entry with Andretti Autosport (then known as Andretti Green Racing), also No. 11, from 2003 to 2009.

Oceanfront Recovery is a modern drug addiction and alcoholism treatment center located in Laguna Beach, Calif., and it will support Rising Star Racing drivers Pigot and Neil Alberico (Carlin in Indy Lights) during the Month of May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Alberico, who lives in San Clemente, is not based far from the company’s headquarters.

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