IZOD IndyCar Series and Texas Motor Speedway Race Back to the Future
The IZOD IndyCar Series has taken steps over the last month to insure that it moves into the future of open-wheel racing with the announcement of a new chassis, engine and aero design. Texas Motor Speedway has taken steps to attempt to take the series back in time when the Texas legends of open-wheel racing like A.J. Foyt Jr., Lloyd Ruby and Johnny Rutherford were molded into the icons they are today.
Of all the announcements Tuesday night by Texas Motor Speedway in a Hollywood type extravaganza at the Dallas House of Blues, the IZOD IndyCar Series announcement held the biggest dynamic and historic change for the 1600 invited guest and media who gathered in Dallas' East End on a rainy night in north Texas.
For the first time since 1981 when Rick Mears won a doubleheader CART race sanctioned by the U.S. Auto Club, Texas Motor Speedway will host twin 275-mile races on the same night, June 11, 2011.
In the history of open-wheel that encompasses the CART series (Championship Auto Racing Teams), USAC (United States Auto Club) and the IZOD Indy Car Series, only 17 twin races have been run, all between 1967 and 1981. The first twin race was a USAC-sanctioned event at Canada's Mosport road circuit in 1967.
Billed as the Firestone Twin 275s, the two full fields with race two 275-kilometer races (171miles/114 laps each) and will crown two race winners. There will be two victory lane ceremonies and the evening will have an hour "half-time" in between the two races to allow crews to work on the cars between the two segments.
Helio Castroneves, three-time Indianapolis 500 Champion was on hand to make the announcement along with Texas Motor Speedway President Eddie Gossage, Speedway Motorsports, Inc. Chairman and CEO Bruton Smith and Randy Bernard, new CEO of the Indy Racing League. The race formerly known as the Firestone 550K, will still be run on a Saturday night at the 1.5 mile faculty in Justin, Texas, just north of Fort Worth, Texas.
Texas Motor Speedway unveiled a new 2011 marketing campaign of "No Limits" culminated with a live concert by the Goo Goo Dolls for the standing room only crowd.
Each twin race will award one-half the normal finishing points of a standard IZOD IndyCar Series event. Know as the "Firestone Texas Two Step", the historic event has been considered since last March when Randy Bernard took over as CEO of the Indy Racing League.
Bernard speaking after the glamour filled event stated that Gossage had brought up the event first. "When I came on in March (as CEO) he called me and said that he would like to try something different." Bernard told Gossage that the concept was, "exactly what we need to do."
With the current state of the United States economy affecting auto racing in general, Bernard wanted to have an event that, "to give people a reason to travel further and to pick one or two events in a year to go to. This was right up that alley."
When asked if he had talked with various IZOD IndyCar teams about the concept Bernard stated that he had visited with several teams. "I talked with teams and the one thing that they wanted was to be sure that we put an hour in between so that if there was a problem with the car they could switch engines." Bernard stated that he had gone to several of the bigger teams to discuss the concept.
Qualifying and many other details still have to be sorted out by Bernard, the Indy Racing League and IZOD IndyCar Series officials. One detail yet to be decided involves if a driver is injured in the first of the twin-125s. Would the back-up driver's points transfer to the primary driver who is injured and cannot compete in the 2nd of the twin-125s?
When asked about back up cars running in the second 125 if the primary car was damaged Bernard stated, "we are going to let the teams owners decide. Some of the smaller teams don't care to have it (because of only having one car) and the bigger teams already have two cars. It is a great question and I have taken it to quite a few team owners and asked them that as well. "We also want to give our chief steward (Brian Barnhart) and Eddie (Gossage) a chance to be involved in those decisions. We don't want to make quick decisions that cost us in the end.
"There are several open-ended questions but what we wanted to do here was to put this (concept) out. We know it is a great idea, but we also want to make sure we do it right. When Eddie said he wanted to announce it this week we said it was no problem but we are going to have to take our time and make sure we are exactly right on this."
The road course at Texas Motor Speedway was never considered as a venue for the second race. "They have a great race already," Bernard said, "and this is going to add excitement to it."
In the past some engine leases with Honda Motorsports have carried over from the previous race to Texas Motor Speedway. With the Indianapolis 500 now being the race immediately before the Firestone Twin-125s, the question now is would an engine lease carry over to the twin-125s? Bernard answered, "Great question and I can't answer that."
Bernard has been a student in Indianapolis Motor Speedway Historian Donald Davidson's class on the history of Indy car racing. "What a great concept," Bernard said of the dual format. "This is something that we should try to bring back. Bringing the tradition of USAC back and we felt it was very important to try. You couldn't ask for a better place than here in Texas.
"I personally feel that what it does for Eddie and IndyCar is that it will bring people from further distances because it is a different type of event. I also believe it will be a better value for the fans. We all know that Eddie will have a great show in between the races too."
Bernard commented that Bruton Smith and all the SMI tracks have been sensational to Indy car racing in the past. When Eddie Gossage stated that he wanted to do something different Bernard felt that it would be successful because of the history of the racing and success that the Indy Racing League has had at Texas Motor Speedway.
It has been no secret in the past that Eddie Gossage has campaigned with the Indy Racing League that the Texas race be the next race on the schedule and that there be an open week between the Indy 500 and the Texas date. In 2010 the Firestone 550K returned as the race immediately following the May classic in Indianapolis after a few years of not holding that spot in the series calendar.
Gossage and Texas Motor Speedway purchased huge billboards in both Indianapolis and the Dallas-Fort Worth area this past May stating that the race was, "Back where it belonged as the first event following the Indy 500" according to Gossage. "We owed it to Eddie," Bernard said, "We want to give him the opportunity to make this as big as he can."
"From my standpoint it was a very easy call. We are going to give him that extra week and will give the teams a chance to rest and time to rebuild their cars after Indy. There were too many positives in it not give this opportunity (to Texas) this race deserves."
Now that Bernard has been the head of the IZOD IndyCar Series for 5 months when asked about his experience as the CEO he stated, "It has been 5 months but it feels like 5 years.
"It has been like drinking water from a fire hose is my favorite saying. Everyday it is a new adventure. The thing that has surprised me the most is the passion in the racing industry and the competition level.
"These folks are all wanting to win. I have never seen a competition from the fans to the team owners to the sponsors to the drivers like this. It is very competitive and I think that the biggest challenge going forward is making sure we drive more people to watch TV or to the track."
The Indy Racing League has an eight-year deal left with the VERSUS network who televise 12 of the 17 IZOD IndyCar Series races. The other 5 races that include the Indianapolis 500 are carried by the ABC network. This past year many cable and satellite viewers were not able to see the IZOD IndyCar Series due conflicts between the VERSUS network and satellite and cable carriers.
"We believe VERSUS is a great partner and it is going to get better," Bernard said. Comcast is due to purchase a large share of NBC this fall and Bernard feels that will help in bringing the IZOD IndyCar Series to more homes.
"We also believe that one thing we have to do is with ideas like this (twin races) to give us different formats. To give fans reasons to want to watch a race in particular. That is something I feel is very important for us to do."
"We will try to create more story lines as we go along. The oval and non oval championships will become a bigger deals along with the IZOD IndyCar Championship."
While Bernard would not comment on specifics on new engine manufactures joining the series, he did confirm that he and other series officials would be flying to Europe later in August to visit with other auto manufacturers in detail about what the league was doing and what the league wanted in an engine package for the series.
"Auto manufacturers want to create brand identity with their car. These new aero kits will be able to provide a different look. This is very important to them. Cost effectiveness was also very important as well. You will also see better signage availability as well with some of the new aero kits we have seen."
Bernard believes that by mid-October the Indy Racing League will know if any other engine manufacturer will be ready to race with the IZOD IndyCar Series other than Honda who is already on board and currently supplies all the IZOD IndyCar teams with engines.
The Indy Racing League did consider postponing the new car package until 2013 but felt since the current package was eight years old, the long term advantages of the new car would out weigh holding off a year on implementing the new chassis and aero packages.
The IZOD IndyCar Series Qualifying for the Firestone Twin 275s will be at 3:00 p.m. CST on Friday, June 10, 2010 with the Firestone Twin 275s beginning at 8:00 p.m. CST Saturday, June 11, 2010. Both qualifying and the twin-125s can been seen on VERSUS.