Sunday notebook: Bumper crowds...

It was a milestone day for the Indy Racing League as a sell-out crowd of over 75,000 fans filled Kansas Speedway for Sunday's Ameristar Casino Indy 200, won by Eddie Cheever

Sunday notebook: Bumper crowds...

Outside of the Indianapolis 500, which draws 400,000 fans for the traditional Memorial Day event, it was the first sellout for the IRL since the inaugural Indy 200 at Walt Disney World in 1996.

"Kansas City has become our new second-best event," said Bob Reif, the IRL's senior vice president of sales and marketing. "In terms of big-event atmosphere, when you have a place that seats 75,000 fans and we have more than 75,000 here, this was a great day. This market was starving for this product.

"Orlando was the first official sold out venue for us. Outside of the Indianapolis 500, this is the first sell-out since Orlando. It was not only that the tickets were sold, but also the fans had a great time and a great show and the merchandise sales were great. We keep turning the corner in different areas."

Texas Motor Speedway had a crowd of 70,800 fans attend the IRL race on June 9 and that facility is generally considered the IRL's best market outside of the Indianapolis 500. But it has some competition from Kansas Speedway, which sold season tickets for all its races this season, including the September 30 NASCAR Winston Cup race.

What was most surprising was the fans turned out despite the high heat that has struck the Kansas City area this week. Temperatures were up to 37 Degrees C for Saturday's NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race causing 220 people to be sent to various treatment centres located around Kansas Speedway.

There was a fear among IRL officials that many of those fans would not return for another day of high heat on Sunday. But the large crowd arrived and enjoyed an exciting Indy car race that kicked off the new Kansas Speedway in grand style.

"I did get concerned, especially when I got back to the hotel on Saturday and heard nothing but heat alert warnings," Reif said. "It turned out to be not a factor today.

"I do like this race date. We are committed to this date for next year and are committed to it. I don't want it to be a night event because night events stink for TV ratings. I'm not interested in running a night event that gets a poor rating, when we can run on Sunday and get a better rating than that."

Kansas Speedway is owned by International Speedway Corporation, which is controlled by NASCAR's France Family out of Daytona Beach, Florida. The IRL and ISC have forged a strong alliance with seven ISC tracks on the IRL schedule next year.

"They are an incredible partner and for us to exceed their expectations at Richmond and here, it has been a great partnership and it continues to build," Reif said. "This was the main event, everybody knew that around here. There were more people here for the IRL race than the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race on Saturday.

"It continues to build and as long as we are building, that's the whole theme of the IRL. We're in this thing for the long haul. People know that the cars and drivers in the Indianapolis 500 are coming to their market."

The drivers were excited to see so many fans watch them race after struggling at some venues since the IRL went into operation in 1996.

"The turnout was unexpected," said second-place finisher Sam Hornish Jr. "I'm really pleased to see how many people cam out. I'm glad we put on a good show. There's nothing more I want to do than put on a good show for a full crowd. I hope they all come back next year and bring a friend."

Race winner Eddie Cheever has raced all over the world, first as a Formula 1 driver, later in CART and has been in the IRL since the beginning in 1995. He sees the IRL gaining ground in new markets.

"I love it," Cheever said. "I'm very pleased to be running high-speed circuits like Kansas, a world-class facility, and the people out here like racing. It was a little place out here a little further east, called the Indianapolis 500 that started auto racing.

"It's just fun to be here."

A.J.'S BOY: Donnie Beechler scored a third-place finish for team owner A.J. Foyt and led the race one time for three laps. Beechler began running for Foyt at this year's Indianapolis 500 and has been on a race-to-race basis for the team owner who also has Eliseo Salazar as his driver.

"A.J. has been funding this thing by himself, and that's what's making it so tough for us right now," Beechler said. "So the last few races we've been very cautious out there to try to just roll the car into the trailer. And it got to be where I just couldn't race. I mean, I was so worried about tearing the race car up and not going to the next race that it was just messing with me.

"After Richmond, I just said, `You know what, I have to just run this thing like I have 10 cars, and we have sponsors.' That's what actually got me the ride."

Beechler used that aggressive mindset to drive him to the best IRL finish of his career. "That's all I had for them was a third-place car today," Beechler said. "But A.J. Foyt and his crew did a tremendous job for me.

"We had a really good car from the get-go, first when we came out of the box here on Friday. If you get your car handling, and it sits comfortable up there, it's not like Texas where the banking is a little bit more. I felt comfortable running high."

Defending IRL champion Buddy Lazier had won the last two races entering Sunday's race at Kansas Speedway. Despite having a car that was stuck in fourth gear throughout the race, Lazier was able to finish fifth.

"On a restart 20 laps into the race, I went to shift from fourth to fifth gear and there was a bug `uuuuuuuuuhhhhhh,'" Lazier recalled. "I couldn't go into fifth or sixth gear. Fourth was meant to be a restart gear, not a running gear. I did the best I could to protect my line, which was the low line. If someone wanted to pass me, they would have to do it on the high side. I was taking the shortest distance around the race track.

"My car was bouncing off the rev limiter, so I was using my brake 10 to 15 times every lap so it wouldn't hurt my engine. My car was awesome in the corners. We had a car that was capable of a three-peat, so I can't complain. We just need to keep our momentum up and we sure have a lot of it."

Race: Cheever beats Hornish Jr in thriller

Previous article

Race: Cheever beats Hornish Jr in thriller

Next article

Ganassi car fuels IRL mystery...

Ganassi car fuels IRL mystery...
Load comments
Why IndyCar’s longest silly-season is still far from over Plus

Why IndyCar’s longest silly-season is still far from over

OPINION: The 2021 IndyCar silly season has been one of the silliest for many years, as many talented drivers remain in play – with new pieces to the puzzle being added all the time. Here's what we know so far about who will end up where in 2022

Sep 15, 2021
Why IndyCar's generational shift isn't as stark as it appears Plus

Why IndyCar's generational shift isn't as stark as it appears

OPINION: The rise of two drivers racing only their second full-season IndyCar campaigns to head the points with four races to go has led to some observers doubting the credentials of the old guard. But they haven't faded away, there's merely a deeper talent pool that is helping to make this season one of the best in recent years

Aug 20, 2021
The F1 champion who became an Indy king in his second career Plus

The F1 champion who became an Indy king in his second career

Emerson Fittipaldi’s decision to go racing with his brother led to him falling out of F1, but he bloomed again on the IndyCar scene. NIGEL ROEBUCK considers a career of two halves

Formula 1
Jul 31, 2021
The lasting legacy of a fallen Indycar rookie Plus

The lasting legacy of a fallen Indycar rookie

Jeff Krosnoff was plucked out of obscurity to become a respected and highly popular professional in Japan, and then got his big break in Indycar for 1996. But a tragic accident at Toronto 25 years ago cut short a promising career and curtailed his regular team-mate Mauro Martini's passion for racing

Jul 14, 2021
The two key areas where Dixon needs to re-assert his authority Plus

The two key areas where Dixon needs to re-assert his authority

OPINION: Having been Chip Ganassi Racing's IndyCar focal point for the best part of a decade, Scott Dixon has been so far outgunned by new team-mate Alex Palou in 2021. After finishing behind the Spaniard at his traditional happy hunting ground at Mid-Ohio, Dixon has work to do to assume his traditional position in the team and the standings

Jul 6, 2021
The winners and losers of IndyCar 2021 so far Plus

The winners and losers of IndyCar 2021 so far

At the halfway point in the 2021 IndyCar Series season, we've had seven winners in eight races, spread between five teams – none of them Team Penske. In this unusual season, even by IndyCar standards, who’s excelling and who’s dragging their heels?

Jun 18, 2021
Castroneves: How I kept it under control to make Indy 500 history Plus

Castroneves: How I kept it under control to make Indy 500 history

Helio Castroneves’ overwhelming vivaciousness outside the cockpit belies a hardcore racer who knows how to plot his moves – and then recall it all. A day after his fourth Indy 500 win, he explained his tactics

Jun 2, 2021
How 'chess master' Castroneves cemented his Indy legend status Plus

How 'chess master' Castroneves cemented his Indy legend status

Helio Castroneves joined AJ Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears with the most Indianapolis 500 wins after edging past Alex Palou on the penultimate lap of a thrilling race that validated Michael Shank's faith in the veteran Brazilian - who is discovering that there is life after Penske after all

Jun 1, 2021