IndyCar Looking To Feed Iowa’s Appetite For Racing

The NTT IndyCar Series is set for a busy weekend with twin races at Iowa Speedway. (IndyCar Photo)
The NTT IndyCar Series is set for a busy weekend with twin races at Iowa Speedway. (IndyCar Photo)

NEWTON, Iowa – There is a growing appetite for racing in Iowa and the NTT IndyCar Series hopes to satisfy that with the Iowa IndyCar 250s at Iowa Speedway.

It’s the first time IndyCar has staged the current doubleheader format (two complete races on consecutive nights) on an oval. The seven-eighths mile Iowa Speedway will feature 250-lap contest both Friday and Saturday nights at 8:30 p.m. Eastern Time.

Both contests will be broadcast on NBCSN.

It’s the 11th IndyCar oval doubleheader held since 1967. The last doubleheader was June 11, 2011, when the Firestone Twin 275s were held at Texas Motor Speedway.

Michael Montri, president of the Iowa IndyCar 250s, is using his expertise from organizing the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix doubleheaders at Belle Isle to make this weekend’s short oval twin bill a success.

“From our initial meetings with everyone locally here, certainly in the city of Newton and at state level, they’re all very excited,” Montri said Thursday afternoon. “When you think about it, it’s college football here in Iowa. I’m not sure that they’re sure whether that’s going to happen here. We might be the biggest professional sporting event they have here this year. We’re looking forward to having it.

“The grandstands, because of the social distancing aspect, we’re at a reduced number. Saturday the grandstand seats are completely sold out. Friday, we have just a few tickets left. We’ve opened up some general admission seating on what we call the hill, so there will be some socially distanced general admission seating on the hill which is selling well. Then we have a couple public suites available where folks can buy individual seats.

“Ticket sales for what we’re allowed to do here under the current circumstances have been very good.”

IndyCar, Iowa Speedway and local government officials are limiting ticket sales to 5,000 spectators each night. That should allow for plenty of social distancing in the grandstands. Families and other groups that come together can sit as a group as long as that group is seating six feet apart from another small group.

Face masks and hand sanitizer will be provided to each spectator at the track both Friday and Saturday.

“I’s going well,” Montri said. “It’s been an interesting and fun week so far gearing up for Iowa’s first race of the season here. We’re going through a lot of the similar protocols and procedures that Mark Miles (Penske Entertainment CEO) referenced in Road America. I had the opportunity to be up in Road America, help them a little bit from the IndyCar side with their planning there. I thought it really went well up there, like Mark said.

“We’re looking for similar results here as far as the screening process for when anybody sets foot on property here at Iowa Speedway. Workers, guests, partners, officials, everybody will get screened. Everyone will get a mask and hand sanitizer. They’ll go through the process just like everybody else. In the grandstands, they’ll be safely spaced.

“We’re looking for a fun weekend. We should have somewhere between 4,000 and 5,000 fans when it comes down to it, when you take the social distancing in to respect and the manifest for tickets.

“As far as on track, looking forward to seeing some of those young guns go at it on the seven-eighths-mile oval here at Iowa. Should be some exciting races. Two night races in a row. Doubleheader. It will be interesting to see what some of the teams do from one night to another.”

IndyCar raced in front of spectators last weekend at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis. It was the first racing event this year where IndyCar allowed fans.

The Iowa Speedway race will be the first oval contest with fans. Miles is hopeful this can serve as a good trial run for next month’s 104th Indianapolis 500.

That major event is scheduled for Aug. 23 with plans for a drastically reduced crowd in the grandstands that have 235,000 permanent seats, according to Indianapolis Motor Speedway owner Roger Penske.

Penske and IMS officials are planning to allow less than half of that for the COVID-19 pandemic rescheduled race that was supposed to have been held on May 24.

“The more experience we have, the better we get,” Miles said of dealing with reduced crowds in the COVID era. “Although, I really do think we started strong even in many of these procedures with the paddock back in Texas.

“First, we have to take care of the competitors, the paddock, the crews, the media, the broadcast talent and production guys, everybody that’s a part of making IndyCar go.

The NTT IndyCar Series races at Iowa Speedway will be open to a limited number of fans. (IndyCar Photo)

“I think they’re all doing great. I think they have the right attitude. You might have thought it would wane over time, but constantly there’s conversations, discussions about how important it is that we follow these procedures, that we wear masks. We show up week after week before, during Indianapolis, and for the rest of the year with everybody able to get on track. That’s important.”

The most important segment of the sport, and the most vital to protect, are the spectators. The series depends on keeping spectators safe, during a very trying time in American life.

“In terms of the fans and more kind of a grandstand environment, while there is camping this weekend, we’ll learn from that, too,” Miles said. “But the scale is different. What I think Michael is doing is working hand in glove with the officials in Iowa and the area there. Their standards are for them.

“What happens in Indianapolis, Ind., is still being dialed in, but will probably be somewhat different, but the basics are the same. We want to test everybody when they come in, meaning screen for temperature and any other symptoms. We want to make sure everybody has PPE, masks, hand sanitizer and the like. We want to make sure everybody is standing apart in lines, everything from merch sales to food concessions is done differently so it’s as safe as it can possibly be.

“The things you check off are very, very similar. There may be a little bit more in Indianapolis. I’m sure we’ll be talking about that in more detail before long. But it’s all learning. It’s a journey.

“What we’re trying to do is figure out what a new normal looks like so that we can continue to operate, continue to do that in the most responsible, safest way, and take care of our fans and communities. That’s what we’re all about. I think Michael and the team are doing that in Iowa.

“You can be sure we’re all over it for Indianapolis.”