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Iowa Speedway’s future — and Newton’s — is very bright

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2013 11:30 a.m. CDT

Saturday morning, I had the pleasure of being a guest on the Racin’ Boys radio program on Sports Talk 810 WHB-AM. Hosts Scott Traylor and Kirk Elliott wanted to talk about NASAR’s purchase of Iowa Speedway last week and what it means for Newton.

I shared a lot of my opinions about that subject Friday.

It was a great opporunity to talk about Newton in a positive way to a very large audience (WHB is a “blowtorch,” reaching much of eastern Kansas, western Missouri and even parts of southern Nebraska and Iowa). It also offered Scott, Kirk and me an opportunity to speculate about the future of Iowa Speedway.

The benefit of writing about this on the opinion page is that I can get away with “educated speculation” so long as I tell you in advance. So, consider this your fair warning.

I do not yet know what NASCAR plans to announce at noon on Dec. 12 (notice the time, that has been confirmed to me by NASCAR spokesman David Higdon, the location is still “TBD” as of this writing). Having covered motorsports since 2000 and Iowa Speedway since it’s inception, there are some things I feel very comfortable about.

The White Elephant

The question on everyone’s mind right now is, “Does this mean Iowa Speedway is getting its Sprint Cup date?” or variations thereof. It will probably get asked Dec. 12, and the guaranteed answer will be: “Not in 2014, nor in the foreseeable future.”

Keep in mind, however, that will always be NASCAR’s answer until Iowa Speedway has a Cup date. As I mentioned back in October, “Silly Season” doesn’t usually begin until the final month or two of the Sprint Cup season.

What I didn’t add is that NASCAR is never the initiator of Silly Season; usually, it starts with “garage chatter” — drivers talking casually amongst themselves and overheard by an overzealous reporter eager for a juicy scoop. The sanctioning body is, however, always the first to put the kibosh on schedule-change chatter — see above.

Tracks are loathe to talk about such speculation, as well, because NASCAR frowns greatly upon it. That’s why when there was talk about “future Cup dates” during the Iowa General Assembly’s deliberations on an $8 million incentive package for further development of the racetrack facilities, NASCAR quickly put the lid on the whole thing.

Sprint Cup racing will very likely come to Iowa, someday. When it does, it will be a big day for not just Iowa Speedway, but for Newton. How big it will be for our community will depend on two factors: when it happens and how vigilant Newton’s leaders will be about holding onto “ownership” of the track.

Track Ownership

Iowa Speedway may have “Iowa” in its name, but Newton deserves to lay claim. It was a Newton family — the Manatts — who ensured the track was built. Of the nearly $15 million in economic incentives for Iowa Speedway, the vast majority came from the City of Newton.

Another Newton family — the Clements — took over ownership when it was needed most, pumping their own money into a track that was struggling right along with the rest of the community. And, again, the City of Newton — that’s you, me and anyone else who lives here and contributes to the tax base — helped out financially (when the folks in Des Moines wouldn’t).

Sure, NASCAR’s name is now on the deed to the property. But it’s Newton’s racetrack. We deserve that ownership stake. But, we need to defend that ownership, especially in the years to come.

I remember a few months ago WHO-TV sports anchor Andy Fales was talking about Des Moines’ need for a top-tier sporting event, saying the city was ready for one. He lumped Iowa Speedway in the conversation.

Now, I certainly don’t know if anyone in Newton tried to help him with his geography or not, but every leader in the community should have. Heck, I should’ve called him out on it. And, in the future, we’re going to have to be far more vigilant about it.

Yes, Des Moines certainly benefits from Iowa Speedway. But it’s our track, not theirs.

A New Paradigm

Ultimately, I told Scott and Kirk that having a Sprint Cup race may not be the most important event to happen at Iowa Speedway. This is where the real educated speculation kicked in, but I think it’s important for all of us to have perspective here.

NASCAR now owns the Iowa Speedway, not International Speedway Corporation. That’s important, because NASCAR calls all the shots in stock car racing. If NASCAR wants something to happen, it does, even in the midst of a season.

In other words, the sky’s the limit.

Prior to the purchase of Iowa Speedway, a Sprint Cup race was certainly the endgame for every one involved. I’ve personally had conversations with a number of current and former track officials, and to a man, they all had a singular vision of bringing the highest level of racing in the world to Newton.

But the paradigm has shifted considerably now.

NASCAR, the sport, is no longer centered on “moonshine country” in the deep south. You have races in California, Nevada, Arizona, Texas, Kansas and Illinois. We’ve seen one race team already move away from the traditional “hub” of the sport — Charlotte, N.C. — to set up more centralized headquarters.

Teams don’t drive the same car every week. The sport requires specialized setups for each individual track on the circuit. When the races are bunched up in the far western United States, many teams have multiple haulers, driving cars and equipment to and from Charlotte.

The logistics are fairly easy, but it’s still very costly. NASCAR, the organization, also has to transport equipment all across the country, as well. A centralized location, very near the intersection of the primary arterial north-south and east-west interstate highways of the country, might seem ideal for a new “hub.”

Again, that’s speculation, but it just might make sense in NASCAR, the sport, in today’s reality.

NASCAR, the organization, is worth hundreds of billions of dollars, and anything it does at Iowa Speedway will be the equivalent of pocket change for the sanctioning body. Also, factor in that Iowa Speedway is perhaps the most under-developed racing property in the world.

It is, more or less, a blank canvas, waiting to be turned into a work of art. In this case, the artist has every tool, every technique, every medium at his disposal. The possibilities are absolutely endless, as is the potential impact for Newton.

Is that pie-in-the-sky thinking? Maybe. But, NASCAR’s ownership of Iowa Speedway is so unprecedented in the sport, you have to start thinking outside the box.

Otherwise, you’ll find yourself confined by it.

• • •

If you’re reading this, thank a teacher. If you’re reading this in English, thank a soldier, sailor, airman or Marine.

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