Formula One
 Wednesday, May 10
Joliet, Kansas City to host new races
 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.

Andy Santerre and Eddie Cheever
NASCAR Busch series driver Andy Santerre, left, and Indy Racing League driver Eddie Cheever arrive in style for Monday's news conference.

The announcements were made Monday at Chicagoland Speedway and Kansas Speedway.

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. 30.

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 current plans.

"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 years.

As for further growth, Helton said: "It's a matter of taking advantage of new opportunities, not just adding races to the schedule."

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 the Northwest."

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.

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