Despite ongoing concern over the declining number of ovals currently on the NTT IndyCar Series schedule, Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Doug Boles (pictured above) doesn’t see the prospect of a second oval race at the sport’s home track being a viable option.
As things stand, Texas Motor Speedway, World Wide Technology Raceway (formerly known as Gateway) and IMS are the only ovals on the calendar. Iowa Speedway, a regular venue for the series since 2007, was dropped this year. Long gone are trips to 1-milers like the Milwaukee Mile and Phoenix Raceway. A new race at Richmond Raceway was planned last season, but the pandemic scrapped it and the hopeful return was not to be.
If there is one positive to have come out of the pandemic, it is the willingness of the series’ management to try unconventional ideas. Various road courses hosted doubleheaders in 2020 that otherwise would likely never have, in an effort to replace cancelled events.
IMS, in particular, added the Harvest Grand Prix last year as a one-off fall event, along with the long-awaited delivery of an IndyCar/NASCAR weekend. While IndyCar ran on the 2.439-mile road course and NASCAR ran the 2.5-mile oval last year, this season the two will share the same layout on the road course. As qualifying festivities geared up for the 105th Indianapolis 500, Doug Boles, president of the Speedway, was asked by RACER whether the track would consider running a second IndyCar race on the oval.
“The thing that makes the Indy 500 special is that it’s one time a year,” Boles said. “What makes it so special is the pressure on race day. So like on a practice day or qualifying day, the place doesn’t fill up. It’s a mile long by half mile wide. It looks relatively empty, even if you have 10-20,000 people here. But on race day, it becomes this intimate little theater with 300,000-plus people on top of you and the pressure and the tension race morning. Winning that race, it means a whole lot. And if you’re second, third, fourth, fifth, and you start thinking about the things you could’ve done to get there. It’s painful and you have to sit and think about it for 365 days a year.
“For me, in particular, I love pre-race. It’s just history, it’s tradition. It reminds me of when I came with my dad for the first time; “Back home again in Indiana” — best 90 seconds of the year; command to start engines and green flag flies. Then, I’m like, ‘Oh man, I don’t get to do pre-race now for 365 days.’ So you’ve watched the race, the race ends, and it’s like, ‘Oh my goodness.’ You got to wait an entire year and it’s miserable, but it’s what makes the place so special, that you get one shot at it every year. I love ovals and I think we need more ovals and I’d love to see us have them, but I think for this place to work, it’s only one time a year on the oval.”
What if it were a 300-mile race as the season finale?
“I don’t think it works,” Boles declared. “That’s the traditionalist in me. They did it in 1916, which is kind of how we came up with the Harvest name for the event we did last year, but it was really the only time that open-wheel cars anyway, had been on the oval since 1916 other than in May. Well, and last year in August.”
The recent IndyCar doubleheader at Texas got mixed reviews from fans, with some upset with the limited amount of overall passing. If the 1.5-mile superspeedway event were to go by the wayside, however, it would only add to the urgency to add another oval venue. Boles — who was the co-founder of Panther Racing from 1997-2006 — agreed a range of ovals events are necessary for the series.
“Ovals are really important to what makes the series special,” Boles said. “The guys at Gateway do a great job and I think that’s a great race, but there’s hope that we can figure out a way to get Iowa back at some point in the future. The small ovals tend to be great events for us.
“The challenge is just finding them, right? You’ve got Phoenix, Milwaukee, and then there’s a handful of them that are there. I love Texas because when I was on the team side, we won five times there and there was nothing like seeing Eddie Gossage (president of TMS) in victory lane — my promoter hero, Eddie is. That one is as much a tradition in a lot of ways in IndyCar racing as anything else.
“Hopefully, we’ll be able to keep that one there. But, absolutely, we’ve got to find ways to keep ovals, not just one or two of them, and I know that’s something that Roger (Penske), Jay (Frye) and Mark (Miles) are all trying to figure out how to handle it.”