NASHVILLE – It would’ve been an IndyCar miracle to turn the Music City into Monaco, a fact as blindingly obvious as bachelorette parties, bar crawls and the neon lights on Broadway.
For all its nonstop party appeal and big-event hospitality, Nashville has no parallel to the super yachts of Port Hercule and the cosmopolitan glamour of the principality.
But when Penske Entertainment CEO Mark Miles caused a stir last week at the kickoff news conference for the Music City Grand Prix by proclaiming “Nashville is going to join Monaco at the absolute top tier of street racing in motorsport across the globe,” it might not have been as far off base as suggested by all those dunking on Miles via Twitter during Sunday’s caution-plagued race (and let’s be honest: Monaco is often a processional known for its lack of passing, so complaining the action was lacking in Nashville sort of misses the point).
Miles lived in Monaco (about a kilometer from the F1 course) for two and a half years in the mid-1990s as the Association of Tennis Professionals CEO, so the remark wasn’t as flippant as it might have seemed.
“I thought it would get some attention,” Miles told NBC Sports with a laugh about the comparison. “I just think the setup here in (Nashville) will immediately propel them to the top level of street races. I don’t mean to disrespect Monaco. We used to walk to the race. It’s spectacular, and obviously, you can’t catch up with the history.
“And I don’t mean to disrespect St. Pete or Detroit or Long Beach, but (Nashville) is sensational. And all the indicators are that it’ll be propelled to the top level.”
Indeed a crowd of 60,000 and the most-viewed NTT IndyCar Series race on cable in at least two decades certainly supported the concept of serving up hot laps with hot chicken, as well as Miles’ assertion that “clearly, Nashville is the hottest city in America for sports and for big events.”
Though Sunday’s race was choppy (particularly the first half) through two red flags and nine caution flags that chewed up nearly half the 80-lap distance, there still was an indelible highlight involving race winner Marcus Ericsson and a compelling finish with Colton Herta trying to catch the lead before a dramatically shocking crash.
Podium finishers Scott Dixon and James Hinchcliffe both said some modifications to driver etiquette would improve the racing (i.e. having a Long Beach-esque gentleman’s agreement of refraining from passing in Turn 11 on restarts), but the race still was enthusiastically received at track by fans who “seemed pretty pumped,” Dixon said. “I don’t know if they’re drunk, but they were pretty excited.”
Said Hinchcliffe: “To come to the race and see how many people actually took the time to show up, how many people stuck around till 8 p.m. to see the end. It wasn’t just like some guy that heard some noise and walked in. These were race fans. There was a ton of merch, a lot of people that knew what they were talking about, knew the drivers.
“It wasn’t just we got dumb lucky putting ourselves in a highly populous city. There’s an appetite for racing here. I scootered into the track every day. I was getting called out by people on the sidewalk. This town knew that we were here and looked like they loved that we were here, which is great.”
But can it match the prestige and pull of Monaco, a crown jewel of the Formula One schedule?
Several members of the IndyCar industry have firsthand experience with Monaco, so NBC Sports surveyed them (and others) for their thoughts on how Nashville’s inaugural race stacked up against Monaco. Here’s a sampling of opinions from last weekend:
Zak Brown, CEO of McLaren Racing that fields cars in Formula One and IndyCar: “I think it’s an awesome race from everything I’ve seen. I think it’s difficult to compare races. There was a great buzz in town. The drivers really like it. I think what we need are more Nashvilles on the schedule. If you look at some of the great street races, they happen to be around stadiums. Long Beach is around an aquarium. Toronto is around a stadium. Vancouver was around a stadium. So I think however this business model works, if we can replicate this in different major cities. I think it would be a huge success. I think it’s a great event. A premium A level event.
“I think Monaco’s pretty unique in the same way that the Indy 500 is, Le Mans is, and the Daytona 500 is. So I think it’s probably hard for any event to be on the same level of a very historic, iconic venue. But do I think (Nashville) could be one of or the top caliber of the IndyCar schedule, absolutely. I think this will be an event that is very commercially successful, and an event where you have a lot of sponsor activation. It’s a great city. It’s easy to get to, it’s got a great vibe, it’s youthful, so I think it’s an event that those that are here are going to go I’m definitely coming back. Those that aren’t will say I’m definitely going next year.”
Alexander Rossi (a former F1 active and reserve test driver): “The one thing Monaco has going for it that’s hard to beat is super yachts. That’s the iconic thing you get from Monaco. It’s not really the city backdrop. It’s the harbor, which is pretty impressive. But I think what (Nashville has) in terms of an energy of a city and a fan base that has the excitement, enthusiasm and knowledge and appetite for motorsports, I think for sure it’s on par with Monaco from there. It’s all hypothetical, but I think in terms of a destination event, this is going to become one of the flagship ones pretty quickly.
“You look at the hotels being built here: An Edition, a 1 Hotel, a Four Seasons. There some big stuff happening here. So it very well in the next couple of years could be at that caliber of a global destination. In terms of a city in the United States, it’s kind of on a meteoric rise right now, so I think it’s very cool that we have the opportunity to be here. I think we need to make the most of it and take advantage of it and do everything we can that people enjoy their experience and want to come back for years to come.”
Felix Rosenqvist (who has lived in Monaco and raced the course while in Formula E): “We arrived here, and you see how much energy the event has, and people talk about it and it’s well promoted. That’s exactly what we want. That’s good for everyone — the drivers, series and teams. Races like this really build IndyCar.
“It’s two different things to compare. This is something new. Monaco is something historical. But in terms of doing something wild that no one imagined, this is definitely on that level. It’s two different things, but I think it’s going to be a quick classic if it stays in IndyCar. I think it’s going to be a race that people want to come back to.”
Romain Grosjean (who made eight F1 starts in Monaco from 2012-19): “I don’t think it’s quite the same. Monaco is all about the yachts and the luxury. Here, it’s more country and people enjoying the streets. Having fun in the city and turning up to come and see the race. In Monaco, you go to watch the race and enjoy the parties that are made for the race. Here I feel like it’s all the time there’s parties and a great atmosphere, and the race is a bonus to that. There are big boats on the river! But they’re definitely not yachts.”
Marcus Ericsson (five F1 starts in Monaco from 2014-15): “The atmosphere (of Nashville) reminds me a lot of Monaco, which is very cool. The atmosphere, all the people, the excitement of the city, reminds you of that feeling. Yeah, we just need some yachts in the river, I guess.”
Josef Newgarden: “That’s a bold statement. I must say this has the potential to be the most impressive street course event in North America and possibly rival international events like Monaco. I’ve been so impressed by the preparation, the enthusiasm of this city. It’s certainly bigger than Monaco. We have a lot more capacity. So in some respects we could be rivaling Monaco. I think it has the potential to be our biggest event of the year outside the Indy 500.”
Dixon: “This is a wild town, man. I’ve been invited to a couple of bachelor parties, and honestly, I’m probably glad I didn’t come because I might not be married. It looks like it’s a wild time, which is exactly what I’ve heard about this place, so it looks cool.
“I think the city itself, everyone is excited to come here. The amount of people coming from Indianapolis alone, there’s a ton of them. But even people from Europe, they circled this race out to come to as opposed to the others. It’s fun to see just the city and combination of an IndyCar race is already drawing people before we’ve even done anything, but I think a lot of it goes to the city getting behind it, and that’s what you need. I’m sure there’ll be some growing pains and the first couple of years will be tough. But if they can stick through that, it should be good for the future. These are the races where I think IndyCar really thrives. It’s about the atmosphere. It’s about the downtown openness. Ganassi threw a massive party (Thursday) on top of a building with 300 guests. It’s one of those events that’s already working. PNC wanted to throw a party, then NTT wanted to, so yeah, it’s a good city for it, man.
“Monaco is very different. It has a lot of history. The downtown of Nashville and Monaco are very different for obvious reasons, but it’s that atmosphere that you want. You want that parties. That’s what makes Long Beach so cool. Some of the people don’t even see the race, but they’re still having a great time, and they’re at the race. I think it has huge opportunity. And not just for Nashville but for the NTT IndyCar Series.”