For Sunday’s IndyCar championship finale, all eyes will be locked on the likes of Scott Dixon and Alexander Rossi as a season-long battle reaches its climactic crescendo. The focus will be pointed to on-track racing action, as it should be.
But when the dust settles this afternoon, the IndyCar Series will see Sonoma Raceway and Verizon slide out the back door and make their departure from the series’ footprint.
Its been well-documented for months that the telecommunications giant would not re-up as title sponsor of the premier open-wheel racing series in America, forcing INDYCAR to search for a new partner for 2019 and beyond.
Verizon entered the fray back in 2014, taking the title sponsorship reigns from clothing company IZOD and implementing new technologies across the series that included development of the official INDYCAR app. The addition of Verizon gave the IndyCar Series its most recognizable title sponsor since its creation in 1996, dwarfing former partners such as Pep Boys, Northern Light, and IZOD.
Despite a monumental nationwide net cast by the popular cell phone company, it seemed engagement and activation between the two entities began to wane in recent years with INDYCAR limping through a dreadful television contract and management changes occurring at Verizon.
Without much surprise, INDYCAR and Verizon would announce last October that the partnership would not continue past 2018 – though Verizon will stay with Team Penske as a car sponsorship.
The writing was on the wall with each party moving in different directions, as is the case with open-wheel racing in Northern California.
Through the course of 2018, INDYCAR would cozy up to WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, a track three hours away from Sonoma Raceway but close enough to pester the Speedway Motorsports Incorporated-owned track in wine country.
Sonoma publically threatened INDYCAR with their exit if the American open-wheel series added Laguna Seca to its calendar, and followed through on that promise in July shortly after a return to Monterrey was finalized.
The IndyCar Series has visited Sonoma Raceway each year since 2005, serving as the season finale from 2015 onward. While the hilly, winding road course has often been a joy for drivers to tackle, the show for fans has generally been lukewarm with passing at a premium.
Even with double points at stake, stale racing action isn’t exactly ideal for a championship finale.
So when the checkered flag flies on Sunday afternoon it signals the end of one era in INDYCAR and the eager start of another.
While a move to Laguna Seca’s narrow circuit may produce similar racing conditions to Sonoma, a very real impact will be felt at the conclusion of INDYCAR’s year-long search for a title sponsor. The series has built momentum by connecting with NBC on an exclusive television deal, with the network offering its support to INDYCAR in the search for its newest title sponsor.
The importance of making the right call is paramount in this stage of INDYCAR’s history. American open-wheel racing continues to move in the desired direction while other forms of U.S. motorsport move backward.
Essentially, INDYCAR is ripe for the picking if it can connect with a company ready to take the reigns and run with it. The possibilities are limitless, almost as plentiful as the championship scenarios in play this afternoon.
As the Northern California dust settles, Sonoma Raceway goes quiet and Verizon hands out its final trophy, the duo just hopes that this time next year it can enjoy the 2019 championship finale without too much jealousy.
Image by Chris Jones/INDYCAR.