We’re really excited as we look forward to the next race on the Verizon IndyCar Series schedule because Phoenix International Raceway is a place where Indy cars belong.
The most important thing is that we’re going to race in Phoenix. With the history that Phoenix has for Indy car racing, it’s certainly one of the great iconic tracks of Indy car racing.
In thinking about Indy car racing, one of the first things that comes to my mind is A.J. Foyt. He’s quoted as saying that the Indy 500 made A.J. Foyt, and that A.J. Foyt didn’t make the Indy 500. You could say the same thing about the Phoenix Raceway.
It was originally designed to be an Indy car track. ISC, which owns the track now, plus NASCAR have certainly enhanced the image of the Phoenix Raceway, there’s no question about that. But INDYCAR deserves an opportunity to be there because of the history of the racetrack and the fact that a good portion of the community still embraces Indy car racing. We saw that when we went to the open test there a few weeks ago. The number of cars that lined up to park when the track was open to the public with impressive. Taillights define success for all of us.
The history of Phoenix is an important element for what Mark Miles (CEO of Hulman & Company, parent of INDYCAR and Indianapolis Motor Speedway) is trying to do to move INDYCAR into where it needs to be next. It’s a foundational racetrack and a very, very important one.
The great names like Foyt, Mario, the Unsers, people like that who raced in Phoenix are legendary. Those guys for me were like the Mount Rushmore of Indy car racing and still are.
I have a clear memory of Phoenix. It used to be, and now again it is, a rite of spring for Indy car racing. We used to go to the Phoenix valley when testing was more liberal and we would literally camp out in Phoenix and run for days. They used to say if you have a good car at Phoenix, you’ll have a good car at Indianapolis. How we figured that out, I don’t really know, but it bore fruit.
I worked for a small Indy car team in the early ‘80s, and we would share the racetrack with the big-time guys. At 9 o’clock in the morning when we would start practicing there, it had that Phoenix spring morning kind of feel. The sun was out, no humidity, you could smell the air and it was wonderful.
It almost seemed like there was this unwritten thing that, when Rick Mears went out to do his first run, everybody watched. It was so impressive to see Mears at Phoenix at 9 o’clock in the morning on a practice day. The ground literally shook when he drove that Penske car around that place the first time. An amazing view!
The crop of drivers that we have today in the Verizon IndyCar Series is the best it’s ever been, top to bottom. Sometimes we take that for granted. There is no doubt that we’ll create new memories next week at the Phoenix Grand Prix and hopefully for years to come there.