IRL: Nazareth back in the major leagues

by Rich Romer Taking advantage of the large media and race fan turnout for Richmond International Raceway's inaugural IRL race, the Indy Racing League made a major announcement less than 2 hours before the start of the race. Tony George, ...

by Rich Romer

Taking advantage of the large media and race fan turnout for Richmond International Raceway's inaugural IRL race, the Indy Racing League made a major announcement less than 2 hours before the start of the race. Tony George, President and CEO of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the IRL, Bob Reif, Senior VP and Chief Marketing Officer for the Speedway and IRL, and Brian Barnhart, the IRL's VP of Operations, took to the stage in Richmond's Infield Media Center to announce the series' schedule for 2002.

The Indy Racing League will hold 14 races next year, one more than 2001, with all of them televised live, 10 on ABC and four on ESPN. Three of the races--the first of two Texas races, Richmond, and Nashville--will be held at night and all will be shown on ESPN. Two races will be new events for the IRL--a July race at Michigan International Speedway and an April race at Nazareth Speedway. Both tracks are owned by the International Speedway Corporation and both have long histories hosting CART/FedEx Championship Series races. In the past week, CART attracted considerable media attention questioning their announcement that they were dropping Michigan as a venue.

The schedule opens on March 2 with a race at Homestead-Miami Speedway and ends on September 15 with a second visit to Texas Motor Speedway. An interesting exchange occurred when Reif was asked if the Michigan race would be 500 miles in length replacing one of CART's two 500 mile races. Tony George, who said little during the press conference, turned to the others and succinctly said, "It will not be 500 miles", making it clear that in the Indy Racing League, there will be one 500 mile race--his; at one venue--his.

Craig Rust, President of Nazareth Speedway, an ISC owned track, was present for the announcement. Craig revealed that he had been talking to the IRL for five months about hosting a race on his demanding one mile egg shaped oval. Rust said, "During our CART weekend last May, there was a lot of emotion about it being their last race on our track. Roger Penske held a press conference encouraging them to rethink their decision and Mario Andretti was very outspoken about the abandonment of his hometown race track. CART CEO Joe Heitzler issued a statement that he would return to Nazareth to meet with us after their race in Japan two weeks later. What got lost in all that was whether or not we really wanted CART back."

Rust continued, "I knew that I had a window of opportunity with the IRL. I did not want to foreclose that to stay with CART for a year or two only to have them bail out on us in a year or two leaving us with nothing. IRL really understands how to market their series. They have produced a great crowd and a terrific race here in Richmond, a traditional NASCAR market, and they have promised us a major marketing campaign promoting their race with us next Spring. We should be able to present one of the most exciting open wheel races in the series for the race fans of Pennsylvania. As close as we are to the New York market, I expect to attract many race fans from there as well."

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Series Automotive , IndyCar
Drivers Mario Andretti , Roger Penske , Brian Barnhart