Bernard looking to mix things up on the scheduling front for IndyCar
Randy Bernard wants to lock in Las Vegas as the series finale venue in 2011
Saturday's Coke Zero 400 showed the drama, excitement NASCAR fans love
Milka Duno has angered several drivers with her slow speeds on the track
WATKINS GLEN, New York -- Expect to see some big changes coming to the IZOD IndyCar Series schedule as series CEO Randy Bernard continues to make some bold moves.
Though rumors were floating around the paddock last Friday that IndyCar was making its last trip to Watkins Glen International, Bernard and track president Michael Printup said that a final decision has not been reached. However, Bernard did say he would like to see the IndyCar race moved off the Fourth of July weekend -- preferably one week earlier -- to better cater to sponsors that are typically less than enthusiastic about investing money or bringing guests to a race on a big holiday weekend.
"To me the Fourth of July is a scary weekend (for corporate support)," Bernard said. "There is no doubt in my mind if you talk to corporations they are not that keen on it being on a holiday."
Bernard is certain of one thing, however -- Homestead-Miami Speedway will not be the final race of the 2011 season. Bernard is currently in negotiations with officials at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and the Las Vegas Visitors Bureau to make that location the series finale.
"Right now we are going to continue to look at all of our markets and pick the best 17 that we can," Bernard said. "We aren't ruling anything out yet but we have to go with the markets that want IndyCar and that can succeed.
"We're not looking for dates; we're looking for marriages. I'm very optimistic that we will end up with 17 great markets next year."
Bernard's long-term goal is to have 24 races on the schedule and believes the series is looking for the "24 best promoters" that can help achieve that goal. Such an ambitious schedule has to be good news to such venues as Elkhart Lake, Cleveland, Houston and Portland.
Two new events have already been added to the 2011 schedule with New Hampshire Motor Speedway on July 31 and a street race in Baltimore on Aug. 7.
A return to Charlotte Motor Speedway is also something Bernard admitted he would like to see but doesn't think the series is to that point just yet.
Bernard is forging a relationship with Bruton Smith of Speedway Motorsports, Inc. (SMI) because that organization seems much more willing to become an IndyCar partner than the rival International Speedway Corporation (ISC) tracks.
"Bruton Smith is a great promoter and we need to do more business with him and SMI because Bruton really gets it," Bernard said.
Bernard considers Lesa France Kennedy, the Chief Executive Officer of ISC, a friend and is willing to hear what ISC has to offer for future schedules.
"I love Lesa -- she is a good friend," Bernard said. "All of my conversations with her in the past have been as a friend. It will be fun to sit down with her in my role and see what happens."
According to sources, the one ISC track IndyCar wants to keep is Chicagoland but in order to keep it, ISC wants IndyCar to return to Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. That would allow ISC to take one of the dates away from Fontana and move it to Kansas Speedway, which is trying to get two dates on the NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule.
"We aren't going to throw anything off the table until we see what the options are -- the weaknesses and the strengths," Bernard said. "Eddie Gossage (president and general manager of SMI track Texas Motor Speedway) and I have also had talks but haven't discussed a second race at Texas. But if anybody can promote four races in one year Eddie can."
To race fans and to the IndyCar Series drivers there is plenty of value to staying at Watkins Glen. For fans of street and road course, Watkins Glen is their "Mecca" just as the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is the "Holy Grail" of oval track racing.
"I see it; I love it. I think it's a great place," Bernard said of The Glen. "I would like to see it stay on the schedule. Why not have it the weekend before?"
Printup said on Friday that WGI loves having an open-wheel race at The Glen because of its heritage.
"I love this racing so much and these guys and girls race the hell out of this track," Printup said. "The date is fine. I'm ready to have IndyCar come back. There had been talk about moving this to September but when we started doing the weather survey that it wouldn't work. We have some corporate sponsors that don't like the Fourth of July but the fans like having it on the holiday weekend."
Printup said attendance was "flat" this year but considered that a good sign because of the economy. He also said some promotion was put into the Toronto market but didn't think the return was what they had hoped.
"There are diehard Watkins Glen fans and putting these cars on this race track is great," Printup said. "Watching these cars go through the 'esses' there is nothing better than seeing that."
Nearly every driver loves driving an IndyCar at Watkins Glen. It was once the home of the United States Grand Prix Formula One race with such legends as Scotland's Jim Clark and Jackie Stewart winning here in their prime.
To see an open-wheel car race at Watkins Glen is a thing of beauty which is why Bernard and Printup need to make sure it remains on future schedules.
For those of us who watched to the bitter end of Saturday night's Coke Zero 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Daytona International Speedway, it was compelling drama even though many of us expected a crash-filled outcome. Due to a 90-minute rain delay starting the race and a red-flag after a massive 19-car crash near the end of the race, it was a struggle to keep the eyelids open as the clock ticked past 1 a.m.
Thankfully, the IndyCar Series race I was covering wasn't scheduled to start until 3:50 p.m. on Sunday.
And, it was obvious that this race would not end without being extended by a green-white-checkered finish.
In a lot of ways, Saturday night's race exemplified the lure of NASCAR to the masses. It was compelling, it was dramatic, it was the fear that danger lurked around every corner.
And after all the twists and turns, crashes and hot tempers, no one can discount the drama and entertainment value that came with watching this high-speed Demolition Derby.
But for the drivers and turn owners, it was an expensive night. One can only estimate the cost of damaged equipment at several million dollars in torn up race cars. Thankfully, there were no injuries to the drivers.
It also appeared that most of the fans who filled the frontstretch grandstands stayed to the final climactic finish.
"Man, I'm just happy to survive one of these restrictor plate races," said third-place finisher Jeff Gordon. "I'll be honest with you, I'm starting to get used to the fact that every race we go to is basically bumper cars at 190 miles an hour."
Things should simmer down as NASCAR heads to Chicagoland Speedway for Saturday night's race. It's one of the "cookie-cutter" 1.5-mile ovals where the field will spread out to a degree and not be running in such a big pack.
And, let's hope it ends much earlier than 1:15 a.m.
Every racing series has its drivers who may be in way over their head.
When Michael Andretti was winning races in the old CART series, that driver was Japanese driver Hiro Matsushita. In the early days of the Indy Racing League, it was Dr. Jack Miller, a dentist from Carmel, Ind., who became one more road hazard on the race track as if the early days of the IRL weren't hazardous enough.
In the unified era of the IndyCar Series, the "Moving Chicane" is Milka Duno. The female driver from Venezuela is armed with plenty of money from CITGO but continues to get in the way of faster drivers.
She was criticized at Watkins Glen by Ryan Hunter-Reay after Saturday's qualifications and by Dario Franchitti in Sunday's Camping World Grand Prix at The Glen.
Hunter-Reay lost his two fastest laps when he spun into the grass and gravel in Turn 8, bringing out a full-course caution. Hunter-Reay would return to the track and was on what he considered to be his fastest lap, before he approached Duno's much slower car. Hunter-Reay had to "dive-bomb" the car and it was enough to keep him from getting into the next round of qualifications.
The Andretti Autosport driver was livid and marched down to Duno's pit area to question the driver.
"She's a moron," Hunter-Reay said. "She doesn't know what she is doing. It's amazing that we are a professional racing series and we have someone like that in a car. She doesn't even know who is behind her. She is so immersed in everything that is going on that she has no idea when a car drives up alongside her.
"She is faster than maybe one or two Indy Lights cars. I don't get it. When you deal with it week-in and week-out and you bite your lip, then it screws up one of your qualifying sessions....every point in qualifying is so valuable.
"She may not be a moron; she just doesn't know how to drive race cars."
Duno was 11 seconds slower and 15 mph slower than pole winner Will Power. She has been a source of frustration for many drivers but her CITGO sponsorship is valuable to the teams that she has competed for.
After Sunday's race, Dario Franchitti also criticized the driver.
"On the first restart, whatever number the CITGO car (Duno's No. 18) is, was cruising along in the middle of the pack and people started passing before the restart," Franchitti said. "Then she pulled in front of Ryan Briscoe and braked in the last corner when four or five cars ahead had already taken off for the green so she completely screwed our restart. That allowed Raphael Matos to get past.
"That was a little frustrating but nothing that she does surprises me at this point."
"I'm proud of myself." -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. after winning Friday night's NASCAR Nationwide Series race driving a Wrangler-sponsored car No. 3 in honor of his father, the late Dale Earnhardt.
It's off to Chicago for NASCAR's annual mid-summer trip to my favorite city. After sneaking off to watch Chicago's winning baseball team -- the White Sox -- play the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim on Thursday, it's another episode of "Danica Mania" in Friday night's NASCAR Nationwide Series race. On Saturday, it's a chance to play "host" to three of my friends as they experience a NASCAR Sprint Cup race for the first time.
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