INDIANAPOLIS — On Friday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, it was announced that the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship will return to the iconic venue next September as the headline event of a full weekend of action dubbed the “IMSA Battle on the Bricks.”
For the first time since 2014, the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship will compete on the 14-turn, 2.439-mile road course in a two-hour, 40-minute race.
The event was described as a three-day festival showcasing the pinnacle of sports car racing, with unparalleled fan access to the garage area throughout the weekend so race fans in the IMS infield can get up close and personal with their favorite sports cars, drivers and team.
And more importantly, fans will be able to camp in the IMS infield, access not available during any other racing weekend at the famous facility.
While on the elevator in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Media Center on the way up to the press conference, several individuals from the IndyCar paddock were discussing how last weekend’s double-header in Iowa was an event and not just a race.
It’s a growing trend throughout motorsports, as various series and sanctioning bodies continue to offer unique and enticing race weekends that encompass more than just the racing product on the track.
Last weekend in rural Iowa, the IndyCar Series hosted a double-header of races at the .875-mile Iowa Speedway, a track that was essentially left for dead during the pandemic. Hy-Vee, the growing supermarket chain based in West Des Moines, Iowa, served as the race weekend’s title sponsor, and along with Penske Entertainment, put on an event unlike anything seen in the history of the track since its opening in 2006.
Along with a pair of races, the weekend featured four concerts with performances from country and pop music superstars Tim McGraw, Florida-Georgia Line, Gwen Stefani and Blake Shelton.
Those in attendance gushed over the festival-like atmosphere. In addition, a plethora of food trucks competed in a Food Truck Challenge where fans determined the winners.
Many throughout the industry felt the Iowa twinbill was a lesson to other race promoters on how to produce a first-class event.
Speaking of producing first-class racing events, NASCAR announced earlier this month that the Cup Series will race on the streets of Chicago next summer in the first-ever event held on a street course in what will be the series’ 75th anniversary season.
There are still a plethora of details to be finalized and a lot of work ahead before cars hit the 12-turn, 2.2-mile street course that will showcase the iconic Chicago skyline along with Columbus Drive, Lake Shore Drive, Michigan Avenue, Buckingham Fountain and Grant Park just before the 4th of July next year.
But assuming NASCAR and the City of Chicago can deliver, it very well could be one of the most iconic events on the schedule — even though news reports locally in Chicago on both Thursday and Friday started to cast some doubt on the event due to mounting objection from environmentalists.
It was a move not unexpected, as the city wants to shut down Columbus Drive for two weeks for set-up, — and likely won’t be able to re-open all the streets or do a full clean-up in one day, since the Cup race is slated to be held July 2, and the July 4 holiday is just two days afterward — and also shut down Lake Shore Drive, which is one of the main thoroughfares into the downtown area for at least a week, as well.
If it rains on July 2, pushing the race back to the 3rd — and maybe even the 4th — it could be disastrous for both the city and NASCAR.
Still, Ben Kennedy, the Senior Vice President of Strategy and Innovation for NASCAR, said of all of the series’ schedule changes over the past couple of years, this was the boldest, calling it the most anticipated event of the season and one of the biggest sports events in our country in 2023.
“This is the tip of the iceberg, and I think the excitement is now going to be off the charts, and people are really going to be looking forward to July of 2023 when the cars hit the streets here,” Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said when the race was announced.
Let’s not forget that Chicago is no stranger to holding big events downtown, particularly around Grant Park, on a regular basis. This includes this weekend’s Lollapalooza, an annual event that draws upwards of 400,000 attendees over the course of the four-day music festival.
“We know how to do this,” Lightfoot said of any concerns. “We’ll be working hand-in-glove with NASCAR to make sure that the experience is safe, but also incredibly enjoyable for the fans. I’m looking forward to showcasing our fantastic city on a global stage. We’re going to do everything we can to make sure that this race is a love letter to the city of Chicago.”
Meanwhile, motorsports sanctioning bodies continue to write love letters to fans, creating unique and enticing weekends that aren’t just races, but events.