It seems like an age ago that we were anxiously awaiting the grand opening of Chicagoland Speedway. Since the beginning of June, the speedway has been plagued by a series of delays that have cast a dark shadow over what was supposed to be a day of celebration.
But if you’ve been holding out hope that Chicagoland Speedway will magically turn into Disney World, then you might be in for a rude awakening. For the past few weeks, it has been all about money and logistics as the speedway seeks to secure the backing it needs to complete its first year of operation. Many longtime fans were anxiously awaiting the chance to renew their tickets and attend a race live, fearing the worst. Just this past weekend, the speedway put out a desperate statement trying to assure fans that they still had plans to throw a party.
The Problems Begin
It all began with the coronavirus pandemic. With most of the country on lockdown and track activity suspended, there was a massive drop-off in the number of race fans that could travel to the speedway. Add to that the fact that the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic and there was no getting around the fact that the 2020 season was going to be very, very different from the one we’d envisioned.
The first major delay occurred on Thursday, April 24, when the Indianapolis Motor Speedway announced it was postponing the season opener scheduled for that day. Even though the speedway had rescheduled the race for June 28-30, it was a major blow to fans who had been looking forward to the spectacle of IndyCar racing at the legendary track.
The next day, Friday, April 25, the speedway revealed that it was delaying the grand opening by two weeks. And, as if that wasn’t enough, it also scrapped its annual tradition of giving out free paddles to the first 500 kids in attendance. The delay was needed so that the teams could have more time to finalize the cars and gear for the season.
In response to this news, a Facebook group called “Save Chicagoland Speedway” was formed with the goal of convincing the community of Indianapolis and the racing world that, despite the postponement, there still was hope for the speedway. The group’s co-founder, Eric Bottorff, was at the forefront of these efforts. He started the group to help keep the momentum going for the speedway and to gather support for what he felt was a worthy cause. He said it best when he put out a call for drivers and teams to get involved.
The Teams Stand By
Although the postponement was a big blow to fans, it wasn’t as bad as you’d think. Sure, it was a day off for the teams and they didn’t get paid. But, in light of the circumstances, they didn’t have a problem coming to the aid of their favorite track. And they didn’t have to. Teammates, drivers, and celebrities all rallied behind the cause, signing on to show their support for the speedway.
The most prominent signatories were former champion IndyCar drivers Al Unser Jr. and Emerson Fittipaldi. The two-time winners pledged $10,000 each and said they’d be there in full force to lead the way in the fight to keep the speedway open. In addition to Unser and Fittipaldi, other teams and drivers pledged their support, including Scott Dixon, Simon Pagenaud, and James Hinchcliffe. Multiple NASCAR drivers, including Darrell Waltrip, went as far as to say that they’d boycott the track if it were to close. Needless to say, the speedway’s board of directors was quickly roused from its slumber and agreed to give the matter more thought. They knew how critical a good portion of their audience was and decided that, given the circumstances, it was in their best interest to keep the doors open. They also knew that the vast majority of their fans were, and still are, loyal and would want the same thing.
What Does The Future Hold?
With the teams and drivers baring all the financial responsibility and wanting to keep the speedway open, it was clear that the grand opening would be pushed back. The bigger issue was how far back. Originally, the plan had been to hold the ceremony on Monday, June 9. But the teams and drivers weren’t going to let this thing slide. They wanted to make sure that the track was ready to go and, for the most part, they succeeded. The teams worked tirelessly throughout the year to bring modernity and technology to a sport that was originally designed to be raced on dirt, using the best equipment and tools money could buy.
Even with all this preparation, it wasn’t easy. There were several other smaller delays along the way, causing anxious fans to wonder how much longer they’d have to wait before they could begin their lives as a spectator at the speedway. This past weekend was the first time since the pandemic that the speedway had held a race. And it wasn’t a full-blown celebration, either. There were still safety precautions in place and the grand opening was held behind closed doors due to continued social distancing. But it was an important step in the right direction.
Whether or not the speedway will continue to thrive in the future is anyone’s guess. The postponement and eventual grand opening were both major events. But without the teams and drivers backing it, the grand opening would have been a lot more difficult to pull off. The biggest question is, what’s the motive behind all of this? Why are the teams and drivers getting involved? Are they doing this for the love of auto racing or is there something more behind it? We’ll leave you with this thought: this is a sport that really needs a healthy competition. To keep the good stuff coming, the teams and drivers should be able to race at a safe and appropriate distance from one another. Otherwise, the novelty of watching cars go around in circles for hours on end might wear off.