When IMSA President John Doonan, along with Roger Penske, announced the decision to add Indianapolis Motor Speedway to the IMSA schedule, it seemed to make sense. World-class facility with a world-class field. But, not everyone was happy about this decision, especially those that have been long-time supporters of a race track that has “sports car” in its name.
The Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course has hosted IMSA, and many other forms of sports car racing, over the years. But when the 2023 season rolls around, Lexington, Ohio will be quiet.
Fans have realized that the condition of the facility would one day impact the number of major events, but they hoped that it could keep plugging along for a little bit longer. Now, they hope they can just keep what is left.
The IndyCar Series and the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series will return in 2023, along with AMA Vintage Motorcycle Days and the Vintage Grand Prix along with plenty of club car racing, but, for the IMSA WeatherTech Sportscar Series, its time has come and gone.
Doonan said, “It was a difficult choice of course, but we have long-term partners across the country with sanctioning agreements, and it’s just a matter of trying to align the value of the partners and where they want to go.”
And where does everyone want to go? Indianapolis.
Doonan added, “We looked at where everyone wants to go including where our teams want to race, and now it’s about giving time to the fans here in Indianapolis.” The Indianapolis fans will certainly be excited for the Battle of the Bricks, but many long-time supporters of Mid-Ohio have already said they will boycott IMSA until the series returns to a track that was designed for them.
The decision to leave Mid-Ohio doesn’t just impact the fans. Mike Shank, co-owner of Meyer-Shank Racing, was almost at a loss for words when asked about the loss of his hometown race track. MSR is based in Pataskala, Ohio, about an hour south of the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, and for Shank, he’s spent more hours than he can count at Mid-Ohio since the early 1980s.
Frustratingly for Shank, he said, “I’m not even sure how to put this…I’m not sure how I want to talk about it. But, it’s never good when you lose your home race track, so I’m not happy about that side for sure.” Shank certainly understands the business decisions as a team owner, but personally, this one hurts.
One of the off-track situations that seems to have been a deciding factor in IMSA leaving is the quality of the facility. Fans have been questioning that for years and Shank adds he understands that to be a determining factor as well. “The facility is not in good shape, people are complaining a lot about that, and I understand that.” Shank added that even though he is not privy to all of the details and information, “I think that drove a lot of the decision-making from what I understand.”
Even though Doonan stated the condition wasn’t a factor, it’s hard not to see past the old worn-out look of the race track. Doonan went on to add that it still has a lot to do with partners in where they want to race, and not about a facilities infrastructure.
“We have to look at all of the different aspects of each facility we go to,” Doonan continued. He stated that one of the issues they have, and it’s a good problem to have, is increased car counts. “We have to be able to have the room to fit into the race track with all of our teams and haulers and partners into a space.”
Car counts are certainly growing and with seven different sports car series under the IMSA banner, it’s almost hard to find any facility that will house that many cars. And while the Mid-Ohio paddock has continued to grow over the years, the only problem is garage stall space is limited to the lower paddock. Anyone working in the upper paddock is stuck working under tents or out in the elements, which is never a fun situation on a hot summer day, or a wet stormy Ohio afternoon.
Doonan did not say that Mid-Ohio couldn’t handle that, but he certainly made it clear that when they hit Indianapolis they plan to pack the place with teams and fans.
Indianapolis will be great for all of IMSA’s partners, but for a small town team owner that has built a championship contender, Mike Shank had his partners and he said “I want to be at my hometown race. For me, I grew up there, from 1980 on, and spent a lot of time up there. It means a lot to me to be able to take all of my family, friends and all of our partners, it’s sorely missed.”
Now, don’t get me wrong. Mike Shank is a competitor. One that is going after a championship in DPi, and with a win in the Indy 500, he’d be happy to take home an Indy win in IMSA as well.
But, not having a chance to stand atop his home tracks victory lane will sting for a while. “I just hope they can do whatever they need to do to Mid-Ohio back on the IMSA schedule,” said Shank.
Those things that need to be done are going to require a lot of money, and with the loss of the IMSA race, that’s a hit to the track’s pocketbook. But could a partner help that, say one like a local team owner?
When asked about the possibility and interest of becoming a partner, Shank didn’t hesitate. “I would love that. I would love nothing more than to do that.”
Maybe it’s time for the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course fans to hit up the track owners and say, “We want Mike.”
Not Jordan, but the hometown hero…Shank.