IndyCars at Chicago Speedway resembles a shotgun marriage
June 14, 2012 10:56PM
Updated: July 16, 2012 6:44AM
If IndyCar racing returns to the Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, it will reinforce how deep the economic malaise is for the sport.
And it will prove that to preserve the financial vitality of their brand, open-wheel drivers such as reigning Indianapolis 500 champ Dario Franchitti will risk driving on a 1.5-mile track he and many other open-wheel pros believe is not safe.
The death of driver Dan Wheldon at the 2011 Indianapolis 500 left an emotional bruise on their race universe and it has not healed.
Joliet’s track shape and dynamics encourage wheel-to-wheel racing packs, and that adds to the peril of Indy-type cars.
First, some basics. Everything about the Joliet track makes it better for NASCAR racing.
The Hatfields had their McCoys. NASCAR has its IndyCars. Different culture; different history; different people.
So when news filtered out this week that IndyCars might be returning to Joliet as early as this year, it was less a sign of budding romance than carefully arranged shotgun marriage negotiations.
Aside from the politics of different racing groups, the potential return of IndyCars would be fabulous for racing fans generally and a chance for Joliet’s management to show it really cares about promoting IndyCar events.
If Joliet actually is angling for a long-term deal, that’s an even better sign.
IndyCars left Joliet after 2010 when the last event there drew 10,000 fans.
That wasn’t the official attendance, but it was how many who were really there by most independent accounts. Ten thousand in a stadium built for 70,000 looks like a group of huddled refugees.
There is an open spot in the 2012’s 16-race season for IndyCars only because China bailed out from the inaugural race in that country because, now get this, there was a conflict with a beer festival.
Whether Indy-type racing returns is an open question at the moment. But for race fans particularly and Joliet in general, it’s time to rekindle a romance that has gone cold.