It’s Finally Friday! Day One of a low-key two-day Verizon IndyCar race weekend at Phoenix International Weekend. The schedule is about as different from the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach as can be. There are two other groups of cars on the schedule this weekend, with generous breaks in between sessions. And there will be autograph sessions for all three groups.
The weather is warm – low to high eighties, with the breeze alternating between desultory and brisk. the morning heavy overcast long gone.
The feature for the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix is Round Four of the sixteen weekend IndyCar schedule. Also this weekend are the USAC Silver Crown Champ Cars with 17 drivers, and Quarter Midgets running outside the grandstands; and the Vintage Desert Classics, which are IndyCar Legends car – 43 of them on display and mostly on track. And from those 43 are two which will have a ‘shootout’ of sorts, called the Speed Calibration, which will pit former IndyCar driver Dennis Firestone in one of his old race cars, and Desert Classics promotor, Gary Mondschein.
The IndyCar garage is relatively quiet and going about its business, with teams picking up tires, prepping cars, going through Scrutineering, and setting up Pit Boxes in the very wide Pit Lane. Quite a contrast from the narrow street-circuit pits of Long Beach.
Take a good look at the front straight grandstands, the RV lots and the garages. They are on their way out. The track is undergoing a massive renovation, which will take two years to complete. After this weekend’s race, the garages and front straight grandstands go. Everything which was there will be moved 90 degrees to the left. The Start-Finish Line will move to the left. The infield will be a new fan zone area. New garages will go up where was the RV lot – three covered garage areas. The Bobby allison Grandstand benches will be upgraded to individual wider seats, with cup holders. Access in the grandstands will be via four new escalators and five new elevators in addition to the five existing elevators. Structures for two elevators are under construction already. And something dear to the heart of all race fans – multiple new restrooms, including ADA facilities. Capacity will be 45,000. There will be a new Media Center and buildings to accommodate Race Control, Timing & Scoring, Medical Center which will house a new First Aid station and EMS location, and Guest Services Area. New concession areas are coming. The DC Solar Fan Midway will provide more visual fan access to the Drivers, in their meetings, for autograph sessions, of the garages, and of the Gatorade Victory Lane celebrations. There’s a lot of work scheduled between now and the November NASCAR race.
The Silver Crowns had a practice in the early afternoon, and points leader Chris Windom in No.92 Gene Kazmark/Remin Kat-A-Bag-Project Healing Waters/Beast Ford. blew an engine. The car has been withdrawn, but as Kody Swanson said – “Just because Chris doesn’t have a car, don’t count him out.” Kody is tied for second in the current standings, in No.63 DePalma Motorsports/Radio Hospital-Hampshire Racing Engines/Beast/Hampshire. In Qualifying, fastest was Bobby Santos/No.22 DJRacing-Simpson Race Products/Beast/VDS Chevy. Second was Kody Swanson, and third was veteran Davey Hamilton (Sr) in No.99 RPM-Fred Gormly/Guts Wear-Hoosier Tire/Beast/Chevy. They all agreed that the wind wasn’t a problem for their cars, described by Hamilton as “a brick.” To a T, all the USAC drivers are thrilled to be back racing at PIR, so much so that Kody Swanson’s brother, Tanner Swanson, went looking for a ride and he’s in No.201 Gene Nolen Racing/KECO Coatings/Beast/Tranter Chevy.