| ||Associated Press|
NASCAR's booming growth will continue in 2001 with the addition
of races in two big new markets.
Races at new tracks in Joliet, Ill., and Kansas City, Kan., will
expand the Winston Cup schedule to 36 events in 2001, just in time
for the start of NASCAR's new $2.8 billion, six-year million TV
package with NBC and Fox.
The announcements were made Monday at Chicagoland Speedway and
The first weekend of racing at the Illinois track, about 30
miles from Chicago, will include a NASCAR Busch Series race on July
14, 2001, followed by a Winston Cup race on July 15. Chicagoland
Speedway will also hold an Indy Racing League event on Sept. 2.
The Kansas track, about 10 miles from downtown Kansas City, Mo.,
will open with an IRL race on July 8, 2001, before playing host to
a Busch Series race on Sept. 29 and a Winston Cup event on Sept.
Both tracks will seat 75,000 around a 1½-mile oval. The Kansas
track is nearing completion and the Illinois facility is scheduled
for completion in spring 2001.
The new races are being folded into an already crowded schedule
that runs from early February to mid-November. The Winston Cup
schedule will cover 38 weeks, including two non-points events -- The
Bud Shootout and The Winston.
It will be the most races run since NASCAR streamlined an
unwieldy schedule and began its modern era in 1972. Before that,
there were as many as 62 races in one season, and no fewer than 44.
Most of those events were on short ovals with purses generally
under $10,000. Every current Winston Cup race pays more than $1
million in prize money, with most offering considerably more.
Mike Helton, senior vice president and chief operating officer
of NASCAR, said he has spoken with many teams about the additions
to the schedule.
"Part of them say, 'We're racers. We'll go 52 weeks a year,' "
he told The Associated Press. "Others just say the additional
races make sense in the overall scheme of things and they'll do
what they need to do."
Helton said NASCAR is wary of increasing the number of races in
its top stock car series.
"For us to add races to grow the sport, we knew it had to be
major, major opportunities," he said. "That's what Chicago and
Kansas City represent for us. By bringing out competitors to these
major markets, we are creating the greatest overall awareness and
enthusiasm for our sport."
Another part of the equation for NASCAR is that Chicago is the
third largest market in the United States, with a population
exceeding 8 million, while Kansas City is also one of the top 25
markets and within a 300-mile radius of 21 million people.
"Our long-term growth plan for NASCAR requires that we blanket
the country to put races within driving distance of as many fans as
possible," Helton said. "No matter if NASCAR is on television, we
feel once people see a race in person, they become instant and avid
fans for life."
Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway, California
Speedway and Homestead-Miami Speedway -- all added to the schedule
since 1997 -- have been clamoring for a second race, as has Phoenix
International Raceway, on the Winston Cup schedule since 1988.
But Helton said that probably won't happen under NASCAR's
"Our strategy for growth does not include going back to tracks
which already have a race," he said.
Helton did not say if that strategy might include taking away
races from the 12 tracks that have two events each year.
There is speculation Darlington Speedway, NASCAR's original
superspeedway, Pocono International Raceway and North Carolina
Speedway could each lose one race to expansion in the next few
As for further growth, Helton said: "It's a matter of taking
advantage of new opportunities, not just adding races to the
Driver Sterling Marlin agreed.
"People want their racing," he said. "Television is fine for
the most part, but they want a chance to be there, too.
"These two tracks will cover two areas that weren't covered.
You start looking around and about all that's left is Denver and
Chip Ganassi, owner of a team in the CART open-wheel series, and
local horse racing mogul Bill Bidwell combined last year to build a
one-mile oval in Cicero, just west of the Chicago city limit.
Chicago Motor Speedway currently hosts a CART event.
"This market's big enough for a lot of NASCAR racing," Helton
said. "As we put together the 2001 season, we'll look at what we
can do at Chicago Motor Speedway."
International Speedway Corp., directed by the family of the late
Bill France Sr., founder of NASCAR, owns the track in Kansas. At
the Joliet track, ISC is a partner, along with Tony George,
president of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and founder of the
IRL, and the original owners of the Route 66 Raceway, a drag racing
strip that will be incorporated into the new facility.
|NASCAR Busch series driver Andy Santerre, left, and Indy Racing League driver Eddie Cheever arrive in style for Monday's news conference.|| |
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Benny Parsons talks with RPM 2Night's John Kernan.
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Jeff Burton discusses the new additions to the Winston Cup schedule.
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Ricky Rudd is excited about the new facilities.
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