Kansas Speedway will hold its first Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series race Saturday night, but it’s uncertain whether the event will return in 2014.
By RANDY COVITZ
The Kansas City Star
The NASCAR-owned Grand-Am Series merged with the rival American Le Mans Series last September, and the two will begin racing as a combined and rebranded organization next year. But the new series is not expected to expand beyond a 12-race schedule, meaning some tracks will be left out.
“With us being a first-year event, and the timing of the merger, we’re not sure about 2014,” Kansas Speedway president Pat Warren said. “We think we’re going to have a great event this weekend, and we think on the heels of that, 2014 becomes much more likely, if not a certainty, but at this point, we just don’t know.”
At least five tracks — Daytona, Road Atlanta, Watkins Glen, Road America (Elkhart Lake, Wis.) and Sebring (Fla.) — are considered locks for the new series. That would leave 17 other tracks that hosted races in the two series this year competing for about seven events. Spokesmen for NASCAR and Grand-Am declined to comment about future scheduling.
Kansas Speedway’s parent company, International Speedway Corp., built the 2.37 mile road course in 2012 when it resurfaced the tri-oval used for Sprint Cup races. As part of its push to win approval for the Hollywood Casino at Kansas Speedway, the corporate parent — which owns NASCAR — pledged to bring a road race as well as a second Sprint Cup race to the track.
It’s hard to believe International Speedway Corp. went to the expense of building a road course without assurances it would have more than one Rolex race.
“That’s some of the thinking that’s going on,” said Kansas Speedway vice-president of sales and marketing Chris Schwartz. “You’d think there is going to be some attrition (among the tracks). We’re looking forward to putting on a great event, and making it difficult for them to make up their mind.”
A crowd of about 15,000 is expected for Saturday’s Rolex Sports Car and Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge doubleheader.
“We’re starting to see interest picking up,” Schwartz said. “It’s an educational process. … It’s new to the Kansas City market. Midwest motorsports fans are going to like what they see. It’s very accessible, fan friendly. You can get up close to these cars and really see the technology and be around the teams, the drivers.
“(Attendance) is not going to be at a level of the Cup or even our trucks or Nationwide events, but it will be well-received and should be an entertaining event. And it’s going to be at night, so that should help out.”
Schwartz said temporary bleachers will be set up between turns one and two of the speedway, where the hospitality village is usually located for Sprint Cup weekends. And three other sets of temporary bleachers will be set up on the infield.
“The grandstands aren’t the best place to view the event,” Schwartz said. “We’ll have viewing decks. … The turn one area will be a good spot to see the race.”
The Rolex race will also be televised live, starting at 7 p.m. Saturday on Fox Sports 2, the cable channel formerly known as Fuel.