IndyCar Should Return to Cleveland, but Not the Airport

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This is beautiful, but don't ever race here again.
This is beautiful, but don’t ever race here again.

Many, years ago, I lived and breathed auto racing, then something happened to me. I’m not exactly sure what happened, or when it happened, but I went from a racing fanatic, to a regular ol’ casual fan. One thing that never changed was my love for open wheel racing on the North Coast, aka Cleveland, Ohio.

IndyCar, or IRL, or CART, or whatever they’re calling themselves this week, hasn’t happened at Cleveland’s Burke Lakefront Airport (that’s a mouthful) since 2007. While I’m very much in favor of the series returning to Cleveland, I’m of the opinion that it shouldn’t happen at the airport, or anywhere else downtown.

Street circuits offer the casual fan more activities than ovals or road courses. As exciting as the racing action was for the Grand Prix of Cleveland at the airport, in 2014 it’s a terrible location for the casual fan.

To make this happen we need to talk about sponsorship dollars, a race location, and of course a race date. Let’s get to it.

Money, Money, Money

Mike Lanigan, the owner of MJ Promotions, or the company that promoted the race would probably be very interested in bringing the race back to Cleveland, but has been unable to do so because the sponsorship dollars aren’t there.

I don’t know how much a sponsorship costs, so we’ll use the ballpark number of $5 million. If you’re going to host a premier race in Cleveland, let’s try and have any one of these companies be the title sponsor: Progressive, Cleveland Clinic, University Hospital, KeyBank, American Greetings, Moen, or for shits and giggles, Mr. Hero.

The Cleveland Clinic, University Hospital and Progressive Insurance are all local, and with my proposed location the race would be run in the former’s front yard. Yes, Progressive has a sponsorship deal with NASCAR that could be a problem, but since NASCAR doesn’t consider IndyCar any type of threat, signing a deal shouldn’t be a huge issue.

Best bet here though, is to try and recruit the non-profit Clinic or UH to sponsor the race. Both are well known brands outside of Cleveland, and would love the exposure and the chance to help build the city.

You Wanna Race, WHERE?

My proposed location for the race is simple, and when you see where you’ll understand why I suggested three very local, very east side companies.

University Circle

University Circle is home to not only the Clinic, and University Hospital, but also the world-renowned Cleveland Orchestra (and Chorus), Severance Hall, and a ridiculous number of excellent museums. It also offers stunning views, entertainment and for fat dudes like me – food.

I suggest this location away from downtown, not because I don’t like downtown Cleveland, but frankly, there’s nothing scenic or beautiful about concrete and steel buildings. The new Cleveland Grand Prix could easily construct a two or three-mile course on Euclid Avenue, East, Stokes, and Martin Luther King Boulevards, while offering casual racing fans the opportunity to explore Little Italy, the museums and some of the best food in the city.

MLK_RockefellerLagoon

The promoter could construct a beer garden at Wade Oval that would feature some of the best of Cleveland’s food and craft beer selection.

Now that we have the where and the why, let’s talk about the when, because this is the touchiest subject of all.

All About That Schedule

Two easy suggestions, one the same weekend as the race at Mid-Ohio. Removing the Mid-Ohio course would be a disaster for Central Ohio, so I suggest we alternate with it on an odd/even year basis. This is the least favorable of the suggestions because of all the support series’ that run at Mid-Ohio and probably wouldn’t be interested in running in Cleveland.

In a perfect world, the race is held the same weekend as the Cleveland Marathon, but because that’s May 18th and right after the road course at Indy and before the 500 that isn’t likely. If IndyCar is willing to forget whatever date equity (I’m not even sure they know how to spell ‘date equity’ at 16th and Georgetown) it has with on May 10th and can get the marathon moved to that weekend, it would work for all parties.

Run 26.2 then watch other people drive. Built-in excitement.
Run 26.2 then watch other people drive. Built-in excitement.

Cleveland’s marathon completely ignores the east side, and the University Circle location I suggest gives visiting marathoners and locals something to do Sunday after they run 26.2.

In addition, there are no regional marathons that weekend, so it shouldn’t be very hard to move the race. That weekend is also traditionally slow for the Cleveland region. The city could “activate its brand” on the East and West side with two different types of racing, bring racing back to a city that’s loved, and if the weather cooperates, be the unofficial beginning of summer.

So, what do you think? Should Cleveland host a grand prix again? Should it go back at Cleveland’s downtown airport, or is University Circle a better option? Tell me in the comments below, or find me on Twitter at @damiEnbowman. You can also e-mail me at damien@morethanafan.net.

Feature image courtesy of “Doug” on Flickr.