Is INDYCAR and ISC’s cold war beginning to thaw?

Multiple ISC tracks now on radar as possibilities for 2013 schedule

The relationship between INDYCAR and the International Speedway Corporation hasn’t always been rosy. Before the series decided to drop all ISC tracks for this past year’s schedule, open-wheel fans long contended that due to ISC and NASCAR being owned by the France family, the IndyCar events at those facilities never got the promotion that they deserved and thus, tanked horribly in attendance despite thrilling on-track competition.

INDYCAR decided to grow its partnership with ISC’s main rival in the race course business, Speedway Motorsports, Inc., and soon, everything was ready for us to have an old-fashioned feud on our hands: The Frances, ISC and NASCAR and the Frances vs. Bruton Smith, his SMI company and INDYCAR.

But fast forward about 18 months and it appears that INDYCAR is working to bring ISC back into the fold. Next year will see the series return to ISC-owned Auto Club Speedway in California and last week, word broke out that another ISC track, Phoenix International Raceway (which hosted open-wheel events from 1964 to 2005), was open to talking with INDYCAR about a return in ’13 to its one-mile oval.

Then on Tuesday, a third ISC track said they were open to bringing open-wheel back as well. Chris Gill of the Corning (N.Y.) Leader reported that Watkins Glen International president Michael Printup and INDYCAR CEO Randy Bernard were discussing how the series could come back to the Glen in ’13, with Printup mentioning that he’d like to bring INDYCAR and the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series together in a weekend show.

“There is no question that, to me, would be a great deal to put in one weekend,” Printup said in Gill’s piece. “I think you put together a weekend like that, and I know you’re mixing fans, which one part of me says ‘Don’t do that,’ but the other side says ‘Wait a minute, road racing is road racing.’ That’s why people come [to Watkins Glen].”

Gill’s piece also mentioned that INDYCAR has contacted a fourth ISC track, the two-mile Michigan International Speedway, and the “independent” 2.5-mile Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania.

All in all, these are very interesting developments, and while some will be thrilled with the possibility of former open-wheel strongholds Phoenix and Michigan coming back onto the INDYCAR landscape, others won’t be happy if INDYCAR has to deal with ISC again. But considering that ISC holds the majority of America’s speedways, the series will likely have to work with them in order to bolster its oval offerings, which are expected to be down in 2012.

Only three ovals are confirmed so far for ’12 — Indianapolis, Iowa and the ISC-owned Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. SMI-owned Texas Motor Speedway is still working with the series to land a date and become the fourth oval.

With ISC again on the radar, you have to think a compromise of sorts is being reached or at least being talked about: Higher levels of promotion from the tracks in return for a lower sanctioning fee from the series, perhaps? On the other hand, you also have to wonder about SMI and INDYCAR’s relationship as well. As of now, three SMI facilities that were on the 2011 schedule — New Hampshire, Kentucky and Las Vegas — will definitely not be back in 2012.