There's been a curious glow coming from the south side of Atlanta lately. Lights at Atlanta Motor Speedway in the middle of summer mean one of two things the groundskeepers forgot to turn them off before they went home or the Indy Racing League is back in town.
From a distance, the lights are the only clue that something's happening at the 1.54-mile racetrack. There's an occasional high-pitched drone of an IndyCar engine that echoes through Henry and Clayton counties, but there seems to be little fanfare about two weeks of practice and testing leading up to the Midas Atlanta 500 on July 15.
The Indy Racing League and rival Championship Auto Racing Teams have been busy the past month securing racing dates for the future. Both open-wheeled circuits continue to struggle with identity the IRL for lacking recognizable drivers, CART for lacking credible venues and the recent push to beef up schedules by both organizations leads most to be-lieve a resolution is not part of either group's immediate plans.
The IRL has staged two races in Atlanta, and both have been rousing on-track successes. The IRL schedule will swell from nine events this year to 12 in 2001. Actually, there will be the addition of five new venues to the IRL schedule and the loss of two events, including Atlanta.
It's also apparent the IRL has developed a working relationship with raceways currently on the Winston Cup schedule, while CART continues to lose ground. The IRL picked up the Homestead-Miami Speedway next year, as well as the Richmond (Va.) International Race-way, the new Kansas Speedway, the new Nashville Superspeedway, Gate-way (Ill.) International Raceway and the new Chicagoland Speedway.
Gone are dates at Walt Disney World near Orlando, Fla., Atlanta and Las Vegas, although IRL officials said they are working to bring IndyCar racing back to the Magic Kingdom in 2002.
New Hampshire 300
Where: New Hampshire International Speedway (Loudon)
Time: 1 p.m.
Broadcast: Television TNN; Radio Motor Racing Network
Track: 1.058-mile oval
1999 winner: Jeff Burton
Morris News Service pick: Rusty Wallace
Other drivers to watch: Jeff Burton, Dale Jarrett, Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt
Other races:Saturday New Hampshire 200 (NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series) at New Hampshire International Speedway; Berlin ARCA 200 (ARCA) at Berlin Raceway (Marne, Mich.)
The IRL has built its reputation and future on oval racing. The organization hopes to mirror the success of Winston Cup by keeping the action in close quarters and in front of paying customers. That can only happen in stadium-like ovals.
Another aspect that separates the IRL from CART is the way both promote. The IRL feverishly markets its drivers, while CART works hard to promote international diversity and space-aged technology.
One curious stop for CART will be May 13 at Texas Motor Speedway because four weeks later, the IRL also will race in Texas. Expect both sides to consider Texas a battleground to determine which organization is more popular.
While CART has dates were planned at the Nazareth (Pa.) Raceway, Mich-igan Raceway and California Race-way in 2000, none of those racetracks are expected to be part of the CART docket in 2001.
Two years ago, those speedways along with Homestead-Miami belonged to Roger Penske, who is part of CART's board of directors. Now they belong to International Speedway Corp., which built its billion-dollar empire with stock cars.
The IRL already has wrestled Homestead-Miami and Gateway from CART onto its schedule next year and plans to add Michigan and California by 2002.
In all, ISC already has five of its facilities committed to the IRL. More importantly, the IRL also has the biggest racing date in the world the Indianapolis 500.
By strengthening their schedules, IRL and CART have drifted further away from reconciliation. The feud between the two open-wheeled series has caused television ratings to plummet and has given thousands of race fans cause to find a new hobby.
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