Over the weekend, IndyCar took on its first oval race of the year at Texas Motor Speedway — and it was a good one that saw multiple passes for the lead as well as a last-turn pass for the win. I just hope it’s not the last event at the oval track.
Listen. I get it. TMS... it leaves a lot to be desired. NASCAR’s commitment to laying down PJ1, a traction compound that ironically causes the Indy cars to lose traction and narrows the racing down to a single lane, has tarnished the track surface. Even running an extra practice session with ultra-high downforce to work in a second groove didn’t really help reduce the impact of the PJ1.
But the racing itself turned out to be great. Team Penske looked unstoppable while Arrow McLaren struggled. The Andretti team lost most of its drivers to mechanical gremlins or crashes, but Chip Ganassi and Ed Carpenter Racing kept things interesting. It was, all in all, an extremely enjoyable event — one of the best races I’ve watched in person. It wasn’t as hectic as the event in 2017, but it was still pretty damn good.
That being said, though, I noticed a massive shift in the track’s priorities this year compared to previous IndyCar events at TMS that I’ve attended. First and foremost, IndyCar was the only series racing last weekend, where the series has often been joined by the NASCAR Truck Series.
Because of that, turnout was low all weekend but especially so on Saturday, when the IndyCar Series qualified for the race. There was a single open concession stands that told two food items: nachos and hot dogs — and they ran out of hot dogs. Most of the grandstand bathrooms were locked up, the infield Torchy’s Tacos was closed, and most of the merch tents hadn’t even set up yet.
As a longtime attendee of the event, it was, to put it mildly, extremely depressing — and kind of felt like the end of an era. Things were more “normal” on race day, but even then, there were actually more concessions and merch tents open at the previous evening’s American Flat Track event at TMS’s dirt oval. The crowd turnout, too, looked to be roughly the same.
I have a feeling part of that also comes down to timing. The Texas event is normally run in June, just after the Indy 500 and Detroit Grand Prix, and to counter the heat, it’s normally a Saturday night race under the lights. This year, the green flag flew at 11:45 a.m. local time, which is either during or immediately after church service — and that inherently cuts down any Texas crowd, especially in the more rural Fort Worth area. The pre-race crowd at Bucc-ee’s was pretty evenly split between racegoers and churchgoers.
Right now, TMS is in its final contract year with IndyCar, and there’s no sign that the series intends to renew. As someone who enjoys the track, the whole situation sucks. As someone who enjoys the oval contingent of the IndyCar schedule, which has been shrinking for years, it sucks. (And from a super personal perspective, this would be the fourth IndyCar venue that my husband and I have attended together to stop hosting a race — and I really don't want to be bad luck for the series.)
If TMS puts in the effort to revamp its track and stops letting NASCAR lay down PJ1, we could have a whole new track.
I can’t say I’d blame the series for nixing Texas, but I would be extremely disappointed. Here’s to hoping this year’s race wasn’t the last.