NHRA: After aiding Houston hurricane relief, Royal Purple Raceway to reopen with new track surface

Photo courtesy Royal Purple Raceway
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When the NHRA returns to Royal Purple Raceway in suburban Houston for the NHRA SpringNationals on April 20-22, things will have a different look for racers and fans alike.

The Baytown, Texas track will have a brand new racing surface, which should make for faster speeds and quicker elapsed times.

RPR suspended operations last September to assist with the massive Hurricane Harvey and resulting flooding relief effort in the Houston area.

Among the ways the track, which sits on 400 acres, helped in relief efforts was serving as a large storage facility for thousands of vehicles that were damaged or destroyed in the hurricane and flood last September.

With the resurfacing job nearly complete, the track will reopen March 2. RPR has a large local racing program that runs from March through October.

When both local racers and NHRA stars return to the track, they’ll also notice some other significant capital improvements.

“We’re very happy to reopen in March for the 2018 race season,” RPR general manager Seth Angel said in a statement. “In this extended offseason we had a great opportunity to complete a series of major facility projects, most importantly the repaving of our race track.”

That includes widening and resurfacing access and return roads around the drag strip.

Winners of last year’s NHRA SpringNationals included Leah Pritchett (Top Fuel), Ron Capps (Funny Car), and Bo Butner (Pro Stock).

“We have always taken great pride in having one of the quickest and fastest drag strips in the country and these enhancements should continue that legacy for many more years to come,” Angel said. “The racers themselves suggested these upgrades and we always like to deliver for them.”

AJ Foyt Racing promotes Benjamin Pedersen from Indy Lights to IndyCar for 2023 season

Benjamin Pedersen AJ Foyt
AJ Foyt Racing
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Benjamin Pedersen is the first driver to land a promotion from Indy Lights into IndyCar for next season as AJ Foyt Racing confirmed Wednesday he’ll be part of its 2023 lineup.

Pedersen, a 23-year-old dual citizen of Denmark and the United States, spent last season running the full Indy Lights schedule for HMD Motorsports. Linus Lundqvist, his teammate, won the Lights title, and Pedersen finished fifth in the final standings. Pedersen earned his only win earlier this month when he led every lap from the pole at Portland.

Pedersen also ran four races for HMD in 2021 with back-to-back runner-up finishes in his debut. Pedersen landed on AJ Foyt Racing team president Larry Foyt’s radar through a “trusted colleague” and Pedersen spent most of last season shadowing the IndyCar team.

His promotion to IndyCar comes ahead of all four drivers who finished ahead of him in the Indy Lights standings, including champion Lundqvist.

“We are really looking forward to having Benjamin as part of the team,” Larry Foyt said. “His enthusiasm is infectious, and he is 100 percent committed to IndyCar, AJ Foyt Racing, and doing the best he can to win races.

“It’s been great to have him embedded with the team this past season, and everyone is excited to hit the ground running when testing begins. It is also great to have a multi-year program in place, which will help him and the team grow together.”

Foyt did not announce a car number for Pedersen. Kyle Kirkwood spent his rookie season driving AJ Foyt’s flagship No. 14 but Kirkwood is moving to Andretti Autosport. The team has not yet announced if Dalton Kellett will return for a fourth season, and a third car for Tatiana Calderon was pulled from competition after seven races because of sponsorship non-payment. Shutting down Calderon’s team removed the only semi-regular female driver from the IndyCar field.

Pedersen, however, was signed to an agreement Foyt said “spans multiple seasons as the team plans to develop the young rookie and is aligned to a longer-term plan for AJ Foyt Racing.”

Pedersen was born in Copenhagen but raised in Seattle and currently lives in Indianapolis. He said his time shadowing the IndyCar team has given him a jump on his rookie preparations.

“I’ve spent a lot of time this season with AJ Foyt Racing learning the ins and outs of making the jump to IndyCar and it’s been really nice to do that in conjunction with my Indy Lights season,” Pedersen said. “IndyCar has been my target goal since I started open wheel racing in 2016. The racing, atmosphere, fans, events, tracks, etc. are all awesome.”