Before the second and final 250-lap race of the Hy-Vee IndyCar Weekend, Hy-Vee chairman Randy Edeker promised, “We’ll be back.” This is a phrase I hope to hear frequently in the world of IndyCar and short-oval racing.
Few things in racing are more stunning than seeing open-wheelers rip through its different bullrings, and the series’ return to Iowa Speedway last year was a perfect reminder of that. In addition, we require more.
In retrospect, those 30 years were abundant. Four of the 1993 CART IndyCar Series stops, or a quarter of the season, were held on short ovals, one fewer than today’s 17-round calendar. In 2003, when the Indy Racing League was still an all-oval series, five of the 16 tracks were short ovals; in 2023, we’re stuck on two short-oval stops: the Iowa oval, a 0.875-mile test of patience and bravery held over two days, and the final oval of the season, hosted just outside St. Louis at World Wide Technology Raceway’s unique 1.25-mile challenge.
Phoenix, Milwaukee, Loudon, Nazareth, and Richmond all used to have former short-oval tops. Like the present IndyCar fans at Iowa, they saw both flat and banking tracks, and both types offered thrilling action.
It would be lovely if someone other than Josef Newgarden of Team Penske was a definite thing to win in Iowa, but the rest of the field provided plenty of excitement as drivers’ fortunes rose and fell and thrust them into and out of the limelight. To that end, let’s up our efforts.
“The oval piece is what differentiates us from anything else in the racing world,” said Penske Corporation president Bud Denker to RACER. At Penske Entertainment, we will always keep that in mind. We don’t need fewer ovals; in fact, we may use more. But the proper ellipses.”
Denker, who heads up the team responsible for promoting Penske’s Detroit Grand Prix and is instrumental in organizing the Hy-Vee IndyCar Weekend in Iowa, wants the series to feature more high-stakes drama like that which occurs in Iowa.
“You saw this at Iowa where the track’s worn out, the tires do exactly what they should be doing with degradation, so if you put on a new set, you’re seconds faster, and the passing is so formidable,” he said. However, the difference is made by changing to fresh tires at the optimal time. Do it wrong, and you’ll be thoroughly beaten.
So, we’re hoping to find the same kind of thrills at another short oval. That’s something I agree with, and that’s something Roger [Penske] and I are both working on.
Recent schedule rumors have the Milwaukee Mile round replacing the August Indianapolis road course round. Word on the street has it that WWTR’s small oval, which hosted two races per day during the COVID-cut 2020 season, may do so again in the not-too-distant future.
Denker, when asked about WWTR, remarked, “I think the idea of a night race one day and a day race the next provides some diversity as an idea to develop.” We can’t say for sure that it won’t happen in 2024, but we can’t rule it out, either.
IndyCar has the perfect recipe to highlight its greatest strength. A doubleheader in Iowa, an additional race in Milwaukee, and twice as much racing at WWTR. We need to find a method to get IndyCar back to the northeast at one of its ovals before the end of the decade. And we need to get Richmond’s 0.75-mile whiplash track on the program.
Denker argues that new regional promotional partners, such as Hy-Vee, a midwestern grocery store company, are necessary to transform the events into replicas of Iowa. Where musical acts rather than only motor racing draw in greater crowds.
“For us, the fact that we produce our own shows and it takes a lot of capital goes into whether we can do something,” he explained. “That’s what we have in Detroit thanks to GM, and it’s how we’ve been able to host concerts there. And what Hy-Vee is doing in Iowa is completely unprecedented in our industry.
So, if you could find ten more event partners like GM and Hy-Vee, we could use this concept to launch similar initiatives everywhere. Having these compact ovals is crucial to the success of our schedule.