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Local Sports

Building ‘America's Place to Race' in Iowa makes perfect sense

The landscape for major league motorsports entertainment facilities in North America has changed drastically over the past two decades. Prior to 1990, traditional racetrack facilities — many of which dated back to the 1950s or even earlier — ruled the professional motorsports roost in the United States. Much of NASCAR’s premier division schedule was run on primarily southeastern tracks, while Indy Cars were mostly a phenomenon of the Midwest.

Then, coinciding with the meteoric rise of NASCAR racing’s popularity nationwide, came the track building boom of the 1990s, and suddenly there were new projects proposed in some areas that no one had ever considered for construction of a racetrack. Other areas, most notably southern California, had been the site of such tracks as Riverside International Raceway and Ontario Motor Speedway, but no new major projects had been proposed in the Golden State since the late '60s.  

Fueled by unprecedented television coverage and a new crop of superstar drivers, professional racing was booming and existing facilities were filled to capacity with fans eager to travel great distances to get their motorsports fix. New England, long a hotbed of short track stock car racing, was firstto be addressed, and New Hampshire Motor Speedway opened with much fanfare in 1990. 

Yet the demand was still increasing, and the NASCAR tracks were installing thousands of new seats as fast as they could be erected.

By the early ’90s, there were a half dozen major projects on the boards, or breaking ground, and in succession they began to open to enthusiastic audiences: South Florida’s Homestead-Miami Speedway in 1994; Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Gateway International Raceway, all in 1996; California Speedway (now Auto Club Speedway California) in Fontana, near the old Ontario Speedway site, in 1997; and Memphis Motorsports Park in 1998.

The boom of the ’90s continued into the early part of the 21st century, as Kentucky Motor Speedway’s Y2K opening was followed in quick succession by Chicagoland, Kansas and Nashville Speedways’ inaugural events in 2001, as the popularity of motorsports, and NASCAR racing in particular, continued to skyrocket upwards.

Other projects appeared on paper in the ensuing five years, but never made it to ground-breaking for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was the fact that the two largest racetrack operating companies — International Speedway Corporation in Daytona Beach, Fla., and Speedway Motorsports in Charlotte, N.C. — were not the developers. ISC and SMI had the projects they wanted, and were successfully promoting events at all their facilities.

So it was that, while all the building of new tracks and more seats at existing ones were underway, talks began in earnest about the possibility of developing a world-class motorsports facility in Newton. 

Oh, there were plenty of nay-sayers to the notion that a racetrack could be built here that would successfully host NASCAR and IndyCar races. 

Long before moving to Newton was even a twinkle in my eye, I have to admit I was among those who privately thought it was a rather far-out idea, primarily since it was being proposed in Iowa, where — at the time — the total population was less than 3 million folks.  

Needless to say, I was wrong about Iowa as a destination for a new, state-of-the-art racetrack, as were a lot of so-called industry experts, and the reasons were fairly simple. First, and most obvious to those who bothered to do a little demographic research, Iowa already had more operating racetracks per capita than any other state, and second place was not even close. 

Simply meaning that a large percentage of Iowa’s citizens were race fans, and possessing a fan base is a major consideration for any track in any marketplace.

Next was the startling statistic that, while Iowa and her direct border states possess 12 percent of the nation’s population, that same area contains nearly 25 percent of the nation’s racetracks. 

Add to that fact that, drawing an imaginary circle around Newton, using a 300-mile radius, there are 12 million people residing within that circle. 

It doesn’t take a math whiz to figure out that those two statistics translate to a huge number of potential race fans.

There are many other factors as well, mostly overlooked by casual observers: Iowa Speedway is a half-mile south of the most well-travelled east-west Interstate in the nation (I-80), and about 20 miles east of one of the most heavily used north-south Interstates (I-35, gateway to the Twin Cities and the heart of Minnesota), meaning access from our prime market areas in the upper Midwest is a snap. 

And there is a 5,600-foot runway at Newton Municipal Airport, capable of handling even the largest corporate jet aircraft, literally next door to Iowa Speedway.

But I believe among our biggest advantages are the people of Newton and central Iowa themselves. 

Sincere, friendly and welcoming to newcomers and visitors, Newtonians (and, indeed, all Iowans) are a refreshing slice of hometown Americana to the race teams, sanctioning bodies and fans that come to Iowa Speedway from out of state. 

Common sense, industriousness, faith in the land, themselves, and their god strike a welcoming chord with our guests, and to a person they rave not just about the facility and our staff, but also about our town and its delightful citizens. 

Thank you all for helping to foster those invaluable attributes!

Now, pretty much everyone says it makes perfect sense for America’s Place to Race to be right where it is, proudly beckoning race fans from far and wide to Newton and serving as the Center of the Racing Universe on five major event weekends this year!  

Newtonians have every right to be proud as well.

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