October 13, 2011
By Nicholas Schwartz
Growing up just a little over an hour away from Watkins Glen, N.Y., I’ve been lucky enough to spend quite a few weekends at one of the Sprint Cup’s two road-course stops on the circuit. The atmosphere at a road course is radically different than at your typical oval or superspeedway -- the viewing experience is different, the weekend activities aren’t quite the same, and the driving is infinitely more cerebral.
Road course racing provides a necessary and refreshing break from the norm, and I for one would love to see more of it in the NASCAR schedule.
The Nationwide Series has embraced a few more road courses than the Sprint Cup Series has, and routinely breaks free of the top-flight series to make standalone visits to Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal and Road America, in addition to a race alongside the big boys at Watkins Glen.
Believe it or not, there a number of other world-renowned road courses in the United States -- Laguna Seca and Mid-Ohio to name a few -- but NASCAR chairman Brian France has bluntly stated that the Sprint Cup Series will likely be racing at only Sonoma and Watkins Glen in the foreseeable future, though the Nationwide Series may expand their horizons.
While that’s a start, there’s no reason that the Sprint Cup Series should be limited to only two tracks, especially when there are a number of tracks, that if visited, could help expand the NASCAR brand and reward parts of the nation that perhaps receive too little exposure to the sport.
With the newly named Circuit of the Americas nearing completion by the end of 2012, just in time to hold the penultimate race of the Formula 1 season and revive the now-forgotten American Gran Prix, NASCAR has the perfect option to make a huge splash in Texas, an area which supports NASCAR fervently. Texas Motor Speedway regularly draws over 70,000 to every race, and all signs point to a huge turnout when the Austin, Texas road course opens next November.
Why not test out what might arguably be the finest road course in America with the nation’s most popular racing series. The Circuit of the Americas is designed specifically for Formula 1, and was dreamed up by legendary German track designer Hermann Tilke, who has shaped many of circuits Formula 1 visits each year.
The 3.4-mile layout features 20 turns, and alternates between low-speed technical sections and sweeping, high-speed curves. Enjoy watching the chaos at Infineon’s hairpin Turn 11? CoTA will have five corners just like it. Like the high-speed esses section at Watkins Glen? The Turn 3-4-5 combination at CoTA should see stock cars entering the curves at speeds well over 100 miles per hour.
Besides the challenge of road course racing, expanding to new tracks makes financial sense for NASCAR. Nationwide Series races at road courses, without the company of the Sprint Cup cars, have shown they can draw a crowd. Over 70,000 fans came to Montreal to see NASCAR’s second-best series, and just imagine what the crowd could have been for a Sunday race.
Yet, for some reason, NASCAR is turning a deaf ear to any ideas of road course expansion for it’s highest-profile series.
“By all account, there's not a better road-course show in this country, for sure” France told reporters in Kansas last week. “Now that said, obviously we're not talking Cup. [It's] full, and all those things. We're not having those conversations. But we have a lot of motorsports products, and we are speaking to them."
Here’s an idea for both NASCAR and Formula 1 that could see a boom in popularity for both series among American fans: package the American Gran Prix with a third Sprint Cup road course race and expose fans of each series to the different product. The Sprint Cup Series is the most popular racing series in the United States, and Formula 1 is the most-watched racing series worldwide -- though for some reason, there isn’t much fan crossover between the two series.
A NASCAR-Formula 1 double-ticket would be the best of both worlds for racing fans, and a race in Austin gives a NASCAR-hungry state the reward it deserves for impressive ticket sales. It will probably never happen, but road course lovers can still dream, right?
If you would like to learn more about Nicholas, please check out his web site at Sports By Schwartz. Nicholas is a Managing editor and sportswriter for The Duke Chronicle at Duke University.
The thoughts and ideas expressed by this writer or any other writer on Insider Racing News, are not necessarily the views of the staff and/or management of IRN.