Monaco and Long Beach are oldest, most popular and most successful street races in motorsports history. A Formula 1 staple since 1929, Monaco is one of the most prestigious races on the circuit, and Long Beach is second only to the Indianapolis 500 in terms of clout in the States. They’ve made it because of community pride, great sponsorship and smart leadership.
This Sunday night in Nashville, Tennessee is a litmus test for IndyCar racing in one of the country’s fastest-growing and most popular cities as the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix debuts on the streets live on NBC.
During the past 30 years, 52 races have come and gone in IndyCar’s various forms of CART, IRL, Champ Car and IndyCar, including 15 street races from Miami to San Jose to Vancouver. Some, like Baltimore, drew monstrous crowds but lost millions because of terrible management, and some were gangbusters for years (like Vancouver) before losing the track to construction, or lack of sponsorship in the case of Cleveland.
There is no template for success but Long Beach promoter Jim Michaelian likes what he sees in Tennessee.
“I’ve worked with Jason Rittenberry (COO of the Nashville race) in Memphis and I think they’ve put together a a package with longevity, racing, and entertainment that will have a broad appeal to adults, young people, kids, music people and the curious,” Michelian told RACER. “I predict all that will make Nashville a success.”
Long Beach is one of Southern California’s major sports weekends, and after four decades of Toyota backing, rival Acura jumped into the title sponsor role four years ago. Nashville has 31 sponsors, including Chevrolet, Firestone, Big Machine Vodka, Coca-Cola, the Tennessee Titans, Anheuser-Busch, Wesley Financial Group, Pinnacle Financial Partners, the retail banking partner along with Action 247, Brand Visual Group, Carvana, Comcast/Xfinity, Flight Solutions, Grand Hyatt Nashville, Grand Ole Opry, Hunt Brothers Pizza, Middle Tennessee State University, NTT DATA, NetJets, Nurtec, Oak Grove Racing Gaming and Hotel, RJ Young, Tennessee Highway Safety Office, ThompsonCAT / CAT Rental Store, Twice Daily’s, Visit Music City, Zaxby’s, and Zyn.
“There is a lot of community support and I think that does well for the future,” continued Michaelian, who will host the season finale on Sept. 26. “They’re got a lot of local investors, strong management and community support. Street races are community events and it looks like Nashville is all in so the potential is very, very strong.
“I’m going there because I want to feel the vibe and energy and (see them) achieve what I think is going to work. I’m bullish on it.”
It’s also a coming out party for Josef Newgarden; the two-time IndyCar champion finally getting to display his talent in front of the hometown crowd.
“I think everyone has been incredibly supportive to me, and I’ve been thrilled more by response to the event,” said the 30-year-old (pictured at St. Petersburg in the main image) who currently ranks fourth in the standings despite some dreadful luck in 2021. “So many people are talking about it that normally don’t care about racing. Everyone is excited to go.”
As for the track itself, Newgarden has spent a lot of time on the simulator and is optimistic that the Dallara can be racy in some tight confines.
“I think Turn 4 and both bridges are going to provide opportunities,” he said. “We’ll find out Friday. It’s going to be bumpy on the bridge, kind of a mix between Long Beach and Detroit, but this car has proved to be real racy so hopefully we can put on a good show.”
Randy Bernard ran IndyCar from 2010-12 and now runs Garth Brooks’s career from Nashville, and he agrees with Michaelian.
“I think Nashville is tremendously excited about the race, and there is so much energy in Nashville right now,” he said. “You bring a world-class event here and they’re going to embrace it. Anything to make tourism grow. I think the race has a bright future.”
Fingers crossed for a lasting partnership.