IndyCar Bound For New Hampshire
By Mike Harris | Senior Writer
Loudon, N.H. – Part of the excitement about Sunday’s announcement that the IZOD IndyCar Series will return to New Hampshire Motor Speedway in 2011 is the memory of perhaps the greatest race in American open-wheel history.
In 1993, what was then the CART series, put on a show that still brings chills to the folks who were there to watch Paul Tracy and eventual winner Nigel Mansell racing wheel-to-wheel and passing on the apron of the 1.058-mile oval.
Dario Franchitti was still over in Europe in those days, beginning his racing career. But the reigning and two-time Indianapolis 500 champion was on hand for the announcement of the IndyCar race here on July 31, 2011, and noted that he is aware of the history.
“My engineer sent me the YouTube link to the race,’’ Franchitti said, grinning. “I’ve only gotten part-way through it, but it’s pretty spectacular.’’
The excitement of open-wheel racing at New Hampshire waned in the years after that big event, hurt by the coming of NASCAR to the track in 1990 and by the split between CART and the IRL in 1996. Now the IndyCars are returning to New Hampshire for the first time in 12 years and track owner Bruton Smith, a master promoter, said he is determined to make the event a hit.
“We’re going to make it a very special event,’’ said Smith, whose company bought the track two years ago and who already has successful IndyCar events at his Texas, Sonoma and Kentucky tracks. “We will promote the event nationally, not just locally.’’
To get things off and running, NHMS president Jerry Gappens asked NASCAR president Mike Helton for permission to let Franchitti do a few laps in an IndyCar prior to Sunday’s Lenox 301 Sprint Cup race.
Gappens said Helton agreed to let that happens between the National Anthem and the “Gentlemen, start your engines,’’ as long as Franchitti promised not to cause a delay by hitting the wall or oiling down the track.
“I’ve got to thank Mr. Helton and NASCAR for letting me go out and play on their racetrack with my Indy backup car,’’ Franchitti said. “I’ll try to be real careful.’’
Asked how fast he would be going, Franchitti said, “I don’t know, but I’ll tell you after the tires get warmed up, I’m going to go as fast I can safely go.’’
New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch was on hand for the announcement of what Gappens called “the third major event at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in 2011.’’
Smith would not comment on rumors that he plans to eventually take one of his two Cup races away from NHMS and give it to Kentucky, which does not yet have a Cup date.
“When we have something to announce, we’ll announce it,’’ he said.
Randy Bernard, the new and very ambitious CEO of the IndyCar Series, said adding New Hampshire to the schedule was an easy decision.
“We have a great fan base here. It was a void in the Northeast and being so close to Boston, which is the 10th largest market in the United States, I think it’s important for us to reach out and bring in as many fans as we can,’’ Bernard said.
“Bruton and I had talked quite a few times on the phone and I love his aggressiveness and his willingness to work with IndyCar. That’s the type of promoter you want. When you can do something over the phone and know it’s as good as a handshake, to me that’s very important.’’
Another important factor in the deal was adding another short oval to the schedule.
“We want to get as close to a 50-50 split in ovals versus street and road courses as we can,’’ Bernard said. “This is a great short oval and, as we saw in Iowa (last week), there were 17 lead changes and Tony Kanaan came from 15th all the way up to win that, and that’s the kind of racing we want to see.’’
“The short ovals are a lot of fun,’’ Franchitti said. “It’s very intense racing and the intensity comes from the speed, especially in the corners. Mentally and physically, after one of these short ovals, you’re pretty done.’’
Maybe Franchitti and his competitors can put on another show like 1993. That’s just the kind of race the now-unified open-wheel series needs to get fans excited.
– Mike Harris can be reached at email@example.com Comments