James Hinchcliffe

NEWTON, Iowa – Iowa Speedway is an important venue for the NTT IndyCar Series for many reasons.

Instead of Toronto’s impressive skyscrapers reaching to the sky including the iconic CN Tower, Iowa Speedway is surrounded by acres and acres, make that miles and miles of corn.

Just as the corn is deeply rooted into the Earth that allows it to grow into the sky, the same can be said for the NTT IndyCar Series at Iowa.

This unique form of short oval racing is part of IndyCar’s heritage and tradition. This is the type of track where IndyCar grew into a popular sport in the 20th Century. It is also part of the diversity of venues and spectators that play a vital role in the sport.

An NTT IndyCar Series race at Iowa Speedway is a special experience because it’s played out in front of grass-roots racing fans. These are the fans that following auto racing on a regular basis, many of which are regulars for sprint car racing down the road at Knoxville Speedway in Knoxville, Iowa.

“They are all different race fans,” Team Penske driver Josef Newgarden told NTT INDYCAR Mobile. “Toronto has a bustling city vibe. Iowa is a bunch of farmers. Really nice people who are salt-of-the-earth farmers who come out and enjoy racing. Mid-Ohio is a hybrid. It’s very much a Midwest race but different from Iowa.

“You get these different pockets of different fans, different people, different racers but they all like IndyCar racing and that’s pretty cool.”

They call the short tracks, “bull rings” because of their size and shape. With the advancements in speed and technology, Indy cars can still become a wild bull in races around tracks such as Iowa Speedway.

“The only thing I wish is that it wasn’t quite as bumpy,” Conor Daly told NTT INDYCAR Mobile. “The bumps in the track in Turns 3 and 4 make it difficult to take advantage of the multi-lane track. I think it’s a great track in a great area to race in.

“I think it’s very important for IndyCar to race in a ‘bull ring.’ I’d like to see Richmond on the schedule as well. To have this on the schedule is very important to our diversity on the schedule.”

Iowa Speedway is one of Tony Kanaan’s better tracks. He drove to victory here in 2010 and in 12 starts has one win, five podiums (top three) and seven top 10 finishes.

What is it about racing at Iowa that Kanaan enjoys so much?

“The speed,” Kanaan told NTT INDYCAR Mobile. “The sense of speed is incredible. If you are going to talk numbers, it’s not a huge number like Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but the sensation of speed here is unbelievable. The first two laps here, after being gone for a year, it feels really, really fast.

“We have led over 500 laps here (actually 523). Hopefully, this will be the weekend we can turn the situation around for this team.

“But we are here because it’s a fun track and a lot of people come here to watch us. Those are the places where we want to race.”

Owner/driver Ed Carpenter is an oval-only driver who came up through the ranks on the short tracks of America as a United States Auto Club (USAC) driver.

“I love this track,” Carpenter told NTT INDYCAR Mobile. “It’s such a challenge. It’s gotten better as time has gone on. I’ve heard some guys complaining about the bumps, but I think that is the best thing for the race. If they repaved this place, it would be ‘Phoenix 2.0’ with one lane and a lot of grip.

“To me, it hasn’t changed much in the past three to four years. I think it’s a great track for us.”

There are some members of the IndyCar community that prefer the cosmopolitan cities, such as Toronto – the fourth-largest city in North America with 2.8 million people living in the city limits. Newton, Iowa has a population of 15,130 according to the last United States Census statistics that were released in 2011.

“I think it’s important to play in the grass-roots markets,” Carpenter said. “People probably said the same thing about Gateway and look at the crowd we got there. We have good fans in the Midwest. Races like this and Gateway are so important on our schedule to keep with the core of our fan base.

“Hopefully, I’ll win one here one of these days.”

The NTT IndyCar Series is known for its diversity of drivers and teams. With superspeedways, permanent road courses, temporary street courses and short ovals such as Iowa Speedway are all vitally important to the NTT IndyCar Series.

Iowa Speedway is called IndyCar’s “Infield of Dreams” and it lives up to that reputation because of its knowledgeable fan base, it’s strong support and its incredible action on the short oval where Indy car drivers are in traffic most of the race.

It all adds up to a very special and important venue for the NTT IndyCar Series.