INDYCAR: So Now They Want Short Track Fans Again?

Stephen Cox Blog Presented by McGunegill Engine Performance

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway has announced a new event designed to draw short track fans back to the mecca of motorsports. A quarter-mile dirt track will be constructed inside Turn 3 for a USAC midget race, which will be held in the first week of September in an effort to pump up sagging attendance at the Brickyard 400 stock car race.

Speedway president J. Douglas Boles told the Indianapolis Star, “The short track community in a lot of ways is the heart and soul of racing, so… we thought, ‘Is there a way we could connect with that short-track guy or gal who spends their weekend at the local track on Saturday?’ And we thought this was a good way to experiment with connecting with that fan base.”

I have an idea that might help. It’s not original, but it’s effective. Let’s start with the track’s biggest event – the Indianapolis 500 – and see if the results don’t trickle down to the Brickyard 400 and every other event held at the Speedway.

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If the Indianapolis Motor Speedway wants short track fans to return to the grandstands, why not allow short track drivers to participate in their premier event, the Indy 500? That concept worked quite well for over half a century. But in recent years the Speedway has promoted a new “ladder” concept and a top tier spec racing formula that has all but barred short track drivers from participating in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

In late 2016 I asked Boles if he wanted short track drivers returning to the Speedway. He responded, “First and foremost in my mind is just really safety. I’d love to see 50 or 60 or 70 cars entering and guys just being able to decide that they have a driver who’s running at Putnamville and we’re going to give him a shot to run at the Speedway. I just don’t think it’s practical anymore.”

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is now paying the price for that attitude. Yes, the short track community is the heart and soul of racing, and no, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has not the slightest connection to that fan base. At least they openly admit it now.

The cure is simple. Open up the Indy 500 formula and end the spec car era. Encourage short track drivers to make the Indy 500 their career aspiration.

Then you won’t have to beg short track fans to return to the grandstands in May or September. You won’t have to construct special dirt tracks and hold 

special midget races to con short track fans into buying weekend tickets to major events that otherwise hold little interest for them.

If short track drivers race at Indianapolis, their fans will follow. No gimmicks required.

Is there anyone in the halls of power at IMS with the will to make that happen? I’m not holding my breath, but there’s always hope. For the first time, the Speedway’s president is openly admitting that they’ve managed to utterly destroy their once inseparable bond with the short track community. At least they see the disaster that’s resulted from twenty-five years of bad decisions that alienated short track drivers and, inevitably, their fans.

That’s worth something. Perhaps it will eventually spawn the best news we’ve heard from Indianapolis in a long time.


Stephen Cox

FIA EPCS sportscar championship & Super Cup Stock Car Series

Sopwith Motorsports Television Productions

Co-host, Mecum Auctions on NBCSN

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Stephen Cox is a racing driver in the Electric GT Championship, the Super Cup Stock Car Series and the World Racing League endurance sports car series. He is also a television host and CEO of Sopwith Motorsports Television Productions. He is currently in his 10th season as a co-host on NBCSN’s Mecum Auto Auction. Stephen also serves as producer for the Super Cup Stock Car Series telecasts on MavTV and other programming on Fox, Outdoor Channel, Velocity and more. His past television work includes hosting: Champ Car World Series Indianapolis 500 NASCAR Winston West Barber Dodge Pro Series Paris-Dakar Rally USAR Hooters ProCup Stock Car Series Mid-American Stock Car Series ARCA Truck Series Stephen Cox is among America’s most versatile professional racing drivers. Few drivers have competed on both asphalt and dirt. Fewer still on both road courses and ovals. Fewer still in both open wheel and stock cars. And virtually none can add the elite division of off road desert racing to their resume. Stephen has not simply raced in each of these divisions – he has scored championships, wins, poles or top ten finishes in every single category, and in 2017 he adds the international Electric GT Championship sports car series to the list. From ARCA ovals to SCCA road courses, endurance racing to Rolex GT sports cars, from Tecate SCORE Baja Trophy Trucks in desert sands to the Hooters Pro Cup Series and Super Cup Stock Car Series on America’s famous southern ovals… Cox has driven them all, and won. Track record holder at Midvale Speedway (OH USA) Track record holder at Gingerman Raceway (MI USA) 18 career wins 17 career poles Mitsubishi factory test driver 2004 GT Challenge Series champion 2004 Championship Motorsports Association Rookie of the Year As a writer, Cox has authored: L&M PORSCHE; the story Penske’s 1972 Can-Am championship SHELBY LEGEND, TRANS-AM WINNER; the 1966 Ford Mustang Group 2 SCCA Racer AGAINST ALL ODDS; the 1970 24 Hours of Daytona Cox also authored the Small Team Sponsorship Guide for beginning sponsor-hunters, the classic book and seminar that redefined the way entry level teams attack corporate sponsorship.

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