HomeThe MarketHistoric Indy cars will return to the Phoenix oval

Historic Indy cars will return to the Phoenix oval


For at least a decade, perhaps even longer, there has been talk that sometimes erupts into heated debate about whether Arizona Auction Week should expand to include a vintage sports car racing competition. Hey, Monterey has one in the summer, so shouldn’t Arizona do likewise in the winter?

The conversations/arguments re-ignited a few years ago when Arizona launched a spectacular if short-lived concours d’elegance. With all of its auctions, and a major concours as well, all the Valley of the Sun needed was a major vintage racing event.

Historic Indy cars will return to the Phoenix oval | ClassicCars.com Journal
Vintage sports cars race through the infield in 2009 event

Problem was, such vintage races are held on road courses like Monterey’s Laguna Seca, not on oval tracks such as the one used by NASCAR and Indy racers at Phoenix International Raceway. And yet, at least three or four times since the turn of this century, PIR has staged vintage races on a course that included much of the one-mile oval plus an infield circuit. One of those vintage racing weekends, in 2004, included Dean Kruse’s 33rd Arizona collector car auction.

But now that PIR has become ISM Raceway and is undergoing a $178 million reconstruction project, there’s no longer a place to race in the infield, especially since the infield has become punctuated by a huge hole. No, it’s not a sinkhole, but what will soon be the entry to and from a tunnel beneath the track so spectators can enjoy a huge new fan zone that will include access to the racers’ garages.

Long-time track president Bryan Sperber said the mission in the new partnership with ISM Connect, which specializes in enhancing fan experience and engagement, is “motor racing meets Disneyland in the infield.”

But in doing so, the infield road course was eliminated. So all hopes of a vintage racing weekend at PIR — oops, I mean ISM — are gone, right?

Not necessarily. Although the infield road course may be gone, PIR has lots of property, and Sperber is more than open to the possibility of vintage sports car racing, “when I get a road course,” he said last week during “Sports Business Arizona: A Prix View of Things to Come,” a series of panel discussions held in conjunction with Indy Car’s pre-season test session.

While Sperber wants a road course, the mission right now is getting his current multi-million-dollar construction project completed before NASCAR’s chase for the championship playoffs race in November.

Vintage Indy cars will roar around Phoenix track

While the Phoenix oval doesn’t work for vintage sports car racing, the track’s IndyCar Weekend, scheduled for April 6-7, will include the second Desert Vintage Classic, with vintage Indy race cars not only on display, but doing laps around the oval both days.

Doing good while driving development

There were three panel presentations during the sports business seminars at the Phoenix track: “Sports as Economic Development,” “Doing Good Through Sports” and “Sports as a B2B Platform.”

Speakers included the chief executives of IndyCar (who also ran the professional tennis circuit and the 1987 Pan-Am Games committee), the Arizona Coyotes hockey team, the Fiesta Bowl, the former mayor of Indianapolis (who also was head of that city’s Super Bowl committee), and of Group One Thousand One, a huge insurance group with major sports-oriented charitable efforts in Indiana and Oklahoma; as well as racers Michael Andretti, Zach Veach and Lyn St. James; and the vice president of ISM Connect and the head of the Arizona Office of Tourism.

Their message was about the way sports, and sports facilities, can power economic and cultural development in communities and generate support for charities in the process.

As Veach, a 22-year-old IndyCar rookie put it, “You can have success, but if you don’t help someone along the way, what’s the point?”

Larry Edsall
A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the web and becoming the author of more than 15 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at ClassicCars.com, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.


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