By: Tanner Watkins
September 6, 2019 | 12:00 PM
On Tuesday, members of the IndyCar community were in Virginia to discuss the NTT IndyCar Series’ return to Richmond Raceway. The re-occurring theme? Next June’s race will be fast, fun, and exciting – which will be just what the doctor ordered for the historic track.
With IndyCar reps Jay Frye and Mark Miles on-hand – alongside Richmond Raceway president Dennis Bickmeier and drivers Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan – much of the conversation centered around the series’ reasoning for a return to the mid-Atlantic.
In Bickmeier’s opinion, the answer was simple.
“I’ve been here since 2011. (The) questions I get asked a lot: When is INDYCAR coming back? The other one is, When is the Truck Series coming back? We’re delivering both of those to the fans around here in 2020. I feel good about that,” said the Richmond executive.
Taking a peek at the situation from Bickmeier’s perspective, it is easy to see how a Richmond return could be appetizing. The track has undergone extensive renovations to enhance the fan’s experience since IndyCar raced here last, and for better or worse, there is an opportunity to attract some of the racegoers that won’t be attending a Pocono race date in 2020.
The combination of these factors, among others, is what buoys Bickmeier’s optimism.
“(I am) looking forward to working with these guys again. I can’t stress enough, (and) Mark hit on it, what we’ve done with the renovations. What these guys do with the fans, what we’ve built, the new attraction, the infield, the two marry up really, really well.
“Looking forward to selling a lot of tickets, getting people out here and enjoying INDYCAR at Richmond Raceway.”
The joy wasn’t contained to one person on Tuesday, though, as Frye, Miles and the two drivers had predictably positive comments to make in regards to next year’s event. With that being said, there was substance to the overall message – regardless of what has happened to Pocono, there is an opportunity with Richmond.
The Richmond market is consistently a top performer when judged by IndyCar race broadcast television metrics, often finding themselves inside the top ten (if not top five) regions by way of viewership. Miles confirmed on Tuesday that while the TV numbers aren’t the only indication of interest, it does help make a case to return to a track like Richmond.
“We look at everything, starting with the racing,” noted Miles. “You’ve heard a lot about that, our great expectations for that. Then you look at the market. Dennis already mentioned the demographics here have changed and continue to change. I think that’s all good from an INDYCAR perspective.
“The television, they seem to always almost be top five wherever we race. We know they’re INDYCAR fans here. We have a pretty good sense that these folks we’re sitting here with know how to get them to the track. It’s hard to do, but it’s an obvious place to get to. We wanted to get this done. We’re glad. We’re going to see what happens next year.”
To help create the most fan-friendly atmosphere for the June 2020 race, Bickmeier and Frye both had opinions on what the two-day race weekend will look like next summer. Bickmeier rolled with a “festival of speed” theme while Frye added that the on-track action will be condensed – for the better.
“One of the things we’re going to try here next year is a little different schedule formula,” Frye revealed. “We’ll come in Friday night, practice from 7 to 9-ish, I would say is the goal. Saturday we’re going to come in and practice, qualifying, (and then) race. It will be a bam-bam-bam type thing to try that cadence, formula, to see how it’s going to work.
“I think as Dennis was saying, there’s going to be Indy cars on the track a lot. The schedule would be somewhat condensed. There will be lots of activity.” Frye also noted that it is possible we will see the Road to Indy add Richmond to their slate in 2020, where they did not visit Pocono in 2019.
The first bit of on-track activity will come this fall with a few drivers participating in October testing. Then in March, we will see a full-field test day for teams to acclimate their Dallara IR-18’s to the 0.75-mile track.
The NTT IndyCar Series will race under the lights at Richmond on Saturday, June 27 on NBCSN – the first race for the series at Richmond since 2009.
Header image by Richmond Raceway.