PRUETT: Can two Bay Area IndyCar events thrive?

Image by Levitt/LAT

PRUETT: Can two Bay Area IndyCar events thrive?


PRUETT: Can two Bay Area IndyCar events thrive?


Laguna holds the same value for IMSA and other series that don’t have Sonoma on the calendar. It’s pure wining and dining, plenty of golf, and all with Monterey Bay as the backdrop. If IndyCar were to choose both, it would effectively be picking a second set of hotels, restaurants, and 18-hole options for its CEOs, CFOs and CMOs in attendance.

And while that isn’t a bad thing in terms of business relations, what’s more important? Offering two Bay Area IndyCar holidays to its high rollers, or ensuring those guests — and all who watch the races at home — see strength and vitality in the grandstands and open spectator areas?

Roberto Moreno, Max Papis and Christian Fittipaldi at Laguna Seca, 1996 (Image by Levitt/LAT)

If it’s the latter, investing in one event — take your pick — would be another reason to opt for A or B. Whether it’s an extension for Sonoma when its contract ends following September’s season finale, or an attempt to rebuild interest for IndyCar in Monterey, the modest attendance figures and costs involved have the men in charge of the tracks concerned option C could tank both races.

Sonoma Raceway president Steve Page and new Sports Car Racing Association of the Monterey Peninsula (SCRAMP) CEO Tim McGrane, who runs WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca on behalf of the county, shard their unfiltered thoughts on the single-or-double topic.

“I think one MotoGP event in North America works, two didn’t, and three really didn’t,” McGrane said of the motorcycle series that once raced at Laguna Seca, and was its biggest event before the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Circuit of The Americas were added to its calendar.

“There are only so many people who are rabid fans of a particular race series that have the time and money to spend on attending events. I don’t think this market would support two major [IndyCar] events. Any numbers that are taken away because fans have two choices in the same arena is certainly one path I wouldn’t choose to go down.”

Start of the 2002 CART race at Laguna Seca. (Image by Hill/LAT)

Page, who grew up working at Laguna Seca, agrees with McGrane.

“I have a great sentimental attachment to that racetrack, and there’s such great memories from when CART visited there,” he said. “You’d have a big outpouring of people wanting to be there for the first year. It’s human nature. And I also know that a lot of that attendance would come at our expense.

“[Holding dual events] would absolutely not thrive. Neither event, at least by the second year, would be as large as our event is currently, either from fan support or corporate support. You’d end up with two smaller events. I can’t see how that would be in IndyCar’s interest.”

Page also reiterated Sonoma Raceway’s desire to remain on IndyCar’s schedule.

“We are very anxious to find a formula where we can continue to be an IndyCar track,” he continued. “Over a decade and a half, we have invested a lot of money and energy into the capabilities of the staff to built the event, and we’re seeing modest growth. It would be heartbreaking for this group here if we were in a position where we could not continue with IndyCar.”

Image by Abbott/LAT

If Bay Area IndyCar fans get two chances to see the series race locally in 2019, it could feel like a second Christmas has been announced. But are there enough fans to warrant the extra holiday? With a Phoenix vacancy to fill and Homestead said to be out of the running, a Bay Area double sounds amazing, but at what cost?

Since overcrowding isn’t on the cards, profit would be the other value to explore. We know Monterey County has placed tight financial controls on SCRAMP, and SMI, owners of Sonoma Raceway, aren’t prone to burning large wads of cash on anything other than NASCAR, so big paydays are unlikely at both venues.

And maybe there’s some other value I’m missing. But if McGrane and Page are correct, the real question to answer is whether two IndyCar races would survive by Year 2. I’m not sure I want to find out. Pick one, push like hell to make it a success, and look elsewhere for a new event.

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