Hey IndyCar: Welcome to the Big Easy!
We’re looking forward to this weekend’s inaugural Verizon Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana. But first, we have a few questions ...
Do you ever tire of driving in circles? (Circle, oval, same thing)
What do you mean, you don’t use turn signals?
IndyCar drivers and sponsors, owners and organizers expect such questions as America’s premier open wheel racing debuts in the New Orleans area this week at NOLA Motorsports Park in Avondale. The three-day event of racing and festivities serve of an example of how the sport, intent on growing domestically, must spend time entertaining and educating.
That’s because with few exceptions, the New Orleans area is about as far from Indianapolis as you can get, as far as racing fan IQ. Racing on this scale has been absent from the region since the Grand Prix Du Mardi Gras left Downtown New Orleans in 1995.
“New Orleans is the shining light of the new markets for the series this year,” said Connel J. O’Donnell, who leads the marketing, communications and social media for IndyCar and Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
In a state whose famous sports stars range from the NFL’s first family (Archie, Peyton and Eli Manning), NBA Hall of Famer Joe Dumars and Major League Baseball great Will Clark, Louisiana has yet to produce a phenom since Frederick “Freddie” Burdette Spencer and Angelle Sampey, both world champion motorcycle racers.
Since the American Open Wheel Reunification in 2008, the series has added approximately one series stop annually. Since then, St. Petersburg (2005), Iowa (2007), Mid-Ohio (2007), Barber (2010) and Fontana (2012) have became permanent series stops.
Former IndyCar driver Paul Tracy, now in his second year as a racing analyst for NBC Sports, said Edmonton, (2005-12) was an early success during its run.
“It always drew big crowds,” Tracy said of Edmonton. “Edmonton was not a real cosmopolitan town, like Toronto or California’s Long Beach. It was a real working-class town. Every guy you’d meet there at the race track, you could tell he was a factory worker. Dirt under his fingernails. Just a real blue-collar town. That was a great race for IndyCar. They drew a lot of fans there.
“I’m looking forward to experiencing New Orleans and seeing what the reaction is.”
Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, Kentucky and Texas all have race tracks on the NASCAR circuit.
The Grand Prix of Louisiana is slated to be a part of the IndyCar series through 2017. Organizers said they will measure the success of this weekend based on everything from ticket sales and registration at the Fan Village to TV ratings and web traffic and social media analytics.
IndyCar is starting the weekend far from the pole position, with the French Quarter Fest one of its main challengers for the disposable income of tens of thousands of locals and tourists. Also, a rainy weekend forecast could have more of an impact in Avondale than it would in Indianapolis.