ELKHART LAKE, Wis. — In its fifth year on the NASCAR Nationwide series schedule, Road America has proved it can put on a pretty good — and, at times, pretty wild — show with stock cars.
Now track president George Bruggenthies is trying to land a Sprint Cup series race.
“Certainly, every year, we prepare the facility for a Cup series race — more, better barriers, always with that in mind,” Bruggenthies said before Saturday’s Nationwide race.
“Will it happen? All I can tell you is, I hope so. But we’re certainly aware that the schedule is the challenge. We think that road racing has good ratings on TV, which is important for the series. So, you know, that’s the boat we’re in.”
The possibility of changes to the 2015 schedule has been debated since NBC Sports signed on to broadcast the second half of the NASCAR schedule beginning next season.
NASCAR officials have not ruled out changing race dates, but there’s been little talk of adding new venues to the calendar.
Still, many people inside the garage wondered aloud at Sonoma Raceway, site of Sunday’s Sprint Cup Series race, if Road America and Iowa Speedway could land on the next schedule.
Speculation focused on the two venues replacing races at Pocono Raceway and Dover International Speedway. But Pocono president and CEO Brandon Igdalsky said he’d heard nothing about Pocono losing one of its two races.
“That’s ridiculous. Who made that up?” he asked.
Still, fans are clamoring for a shakeup to the schedule, and many want another road course.
Could Road America fit the bill?
Bruggenthies believes the combination of the track’s scenic setting — a four-mile road course that winds through the tree-lined hills of central Wisconsin, just minutes from high-end resorts and golf courses — plus the good shows Nationwide has put on here, add up to build a strong case for Cup at Road America.
“We’ve had four races here and every one of them has been a nail-biter,” Bruggenthies said. “We think that it’s very worthy. The drivers actually like the facility, NASCAR likes the facility, and we’re hopeful. We’ll just keep heading on the same path to prepare and hope something opens up.
“Officially, there’s no commitment or anything like that. I think I’ve reiterated that several times. But if you’re ready, things will happen.”
While it’s fun to imagine the possibility of Jimmie Johnson, Brad Keselowski and the rest of the Sprint Cup stars going door-to-door at Road America, getting a spot on the schedule is a challenge.
Already one of the longest seasons in professional sports, the Sprint Cup series schedule is maxed out at 36 races and two exhibitions — and the vast majority of Cup race dates belong to one of two track ownership conglomerates, the France family-affiliated International Speedway Corp. and a rival company, Speedway Motorsports Inc. It’s hard to imagine either company giving up a race date.
Bruggenthies also remains open to bringing Indy cars back to Road America, but acknowledges that there are some roadblocks.
“They need to (shape) up their broadcast package and really take a look at what their sanction fee is,” he said. “It has to make sense. Right now, they seem to want to go overseas. I don’t know what that does for their sponsors. Probably pays some of the bills for IndyCar, because they’ve tightened up. They’re not giving anything away.”
Bruggenthies joked that he’d be willing to pay “double” the sanctioning fee that team owner Michael Andretti is paying IndyCar to promote the race at the Milwaukee Mile; it’s widely believed that IndyCar gave Andretti a steep discount — at least initially — after he agreed to rescue the Milwaukee race. The Milwaukee track experienced a series of financial difficulties under previous promoters.
However, local fans remain hopeful; the now-defunct CART series once drew massive crowds to Road America during its heyday.
“We’ll see what happens there,” Bruggenthies said. “We’re always open. We listen to our fans. We understand they want that here.”