Saturday’s opening night will be packed with action
Southsider Voice correspondent
The venerable Indianapolis Speedrome will be under new ownership when opening for its 74th season on April 19. Central Indiana restaurateurs Pete Watson and Jeff Hammel and managing partner Larry Curry, former team manager for Menard Racing, recently bought the Southeastside race track from the Cohen family.
The track had been scheduled to open Friday, but renovation work necessitated a one-week delay.
Racing on F.E. Harding Asphalt opening night begins at 7 p.m. The action will feature a 35-lap Late Model figure-8, oval racing for Late Models, Stocks, Roadrunners, Hornets, junior Roadrunners and Hornets and USSA Mel Kenyon midget cars. Admission is $5 instead of the regular $12 for adults.
“The $5 admission and the first race on the new pavement should create a new curiosity for fans to come out,” said Curry, who is in charge of track operations. “We want to become for family-focused.”
Many changes are under way, according to Curry,
The deteriorating track was repaved last week, making the racing surface 1 foot wider with a slight increase in banking while also creating a natural arc through all four turns.
The infield pavement for figure-8 racing remains the same. The entrance and exit gates have been widened for easier driver access to and from the pit area.
Electronic scoring strips have been placed at the start-finish lines of the oval and figure-8 tracks. Curry eventually envisions side-by-side racing for midget cars.
Sixteen businesses have been lined up as sponsors, including Advance Auto Sales with its two Southside locations and Bob Rohrman Indy Honda for the return of USAC midget racing May 23 and Aug. 30; track naming rights have been secured by Ivy Tech Community College.
Curry outlined additional changes for 2014:
• Increased security for spectators, drivers and crew members.
• Discount for drivers, team owners and crew members who purchase their season licenses in advance of opening night.
• Cutting tire costs for stock car teams by allowing recapped tires instead of requiring new ones.
• The main office has been repainted and has new flooring and new lighting.
Rest room improvements will be addressed, and Watson and Hammel will operate the concessions rather than leasing out food sales.
“We want to get our feet on the ground,” Curry said. “Before we make the Speedrome even more successful, we know that we have to make it family-friendly. Racing is entertainment, and we want spectators to be entertained and feel safe. We will increase security.”
There are no changes in the classes that race at Speedrome. Roadrunners and Hornets will be required to have racing seats and interior roll cages for increased driver safety by May 24.
The Speedrome is recognized as the world’s home of figure-8 racing with high-powered, high-performance Late Models and midget car racing. Launched in 1977, the World Figure-8 Championship is the track’s signature event, with the 38th running Sept. 4-6. The oval also is the home to 496 USAC-sanctioned events.
“We’re going to work hard at this,” Curry said of the new ownership. “Hopefully, each week when fans come out, they will see more and more improvements. The goal is to get the Speedrome turned around.
“I believe this is an underutilized facility that needs to be improved. The track was built in 1941, so we want to begin promoting our 75th anniversary. It will be a process to build a relationship with the racers and the spectators. I was a racer, too, so they know where I’m coming from and how valuable the fans are to the success of the track.”
Former owners of the historic Speedrome have been the Sexson brothers, who founded and built the facility, former midget car driver Leroy Warriner, Greenwood business owner John Stiles and the Cohen family: the late Jake Cohen and sons Bill and Joel.
The Speedrome is located at Brookville Road and Kitley Avenue. Call 353-9306 or visit www.speedrome.com for more information.