MIAMI (AP) - Homestead-Miami Speedway is off the 2011 Indy Racing League schedule, a decision that some of the series’ top drivers are not thrilled about.
A person with knowledge of the IRL’s 2011 plan told The Associated Press on Wednesday that Homestead is not among the venues selected to host a race next year. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because IndyCar officials do not plan to release the full schedule for the coming season until Friday.
Homestead was IRL’s traditional opening site for much of the past decade, hosted the series championship-deciding finale in 2009 and will be where the final race of this year takes place on Oct. 2. The finale is expected to move to Las Vegas for 2011.
“We want to partner with tracks that are willing to promote and market IndyCar as we grow our sport,” IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard said. “While Homestead has been a good track, currently our objectives are not aligned. IndyCar must do what is in the best of interest of IndyCar going forward, and we are confident the partners and promoters we have will work very hard to help advance the series”
Bernard added that he was confident fans will continue enjoying the series championship “and its new home.” He did not divulge any other schedule-related details.
“For me, obviously, I don’t know the logistics of what happened so it’s hard to criticize one part or another,” driver Tony Kanaan told The AP. “To me, it’s a shame. It’s like losing my home race. It’s the race all my friends get to see. It’s the only race a lot of people here can afford to go see. It’s the only opportunity I have to invite people to watch.”
Kanaan, who said he was previously made aware of IndyCar’s decision about Homestead, is one of 10 IRL drivers with homes in South Florida.
“It’s a shame,” Kanaan said. “That’s my personal view. It’s a shame.”
Other drivers, including reigning IRL champion Dario Franchitti and longtime Homestead visitor Scott Dixon, said earlier this week they were hopeful South Florida would remain on the series schedule. It’s been widely expected for several weeks that Las Vegas will replace Homestead as site of the 2011 IRL finale, but there were talks about Homestead occupying another date on next year’s calendar.
“I’ll be sad if we don’t come back here,” Franchitti said Monday during a visit to Homestead.
Homestead-Miami Speedway President Matt Becherer told the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce at a Wednesday luncheon that the track generates $331 million annually for the South Florida economy, saying $250 million of that came directly from NASCAR’s annual championship weekend.
Operated by International Speedway Corporation, Homestead hosts the finales for all three of NASCAR’s series, and Becherer said there was a “very real” threat made earlier this year by rival track owner Bruton Smith to lure the Sprint Cup championship to his facility in Las Vegas.
“He wants our race badly. Very badly,” Becherer told the Miami chamber Wednesday. “There’s going to come a time where we’re going to have to respond to these threats. What’s at stake is simply too high.”
Becherer did not mention anything about the IRL’s plans for 2011 and beyond at Homestead in his 12-minute address Wednesday.
Smith, the chairman of Speedway Motorsports Inc., said last weekend that Homestead, about a 30-minute drive south of downtown Miami, isn’t a worthy site for championship events. He referred to the track’s location as “North Cuba” and indicated that he expected the IRL finale to be in Las Vegas for at least 2011.
“I’ve worked really hard to promote the Homestead race,” Kanaan said. “I’ve seen the growth of the public there. We announced the unification of the series there in 2008. It’s part of the new history of the new league and it’s a track that I heart a lot. We’re not filling the place like the Cup guys do, but it’s increasing.”
Kanaan is hopeful for a return to Homestead in 2012.
“I will do whatever it takes,” Kanaan said. “I work for my team and I work for the league, but if there’s something that can be done, I’ll be the first one to do it.”
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