Homestead Happenings at the Speedway - South Dade News Leader: Opinion

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Homestead Happenings at the Speedway

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Posted: Friday, March 1, 2019 11:26 am

In most sports, teams and athletes take part in preseason practices and games to get ready for the upcoming season. The preseason offers athletes a chance to fine-tune their skills and get into shape by the time the regular season rolls around. Essentially, preseason is used as a way to evaluate performance and shake off some rust before wins and losses start to count.

In NASCAR, there isn’t much of a formal preseason, but many drivers will do some testing at tracks before the regular season begins. Of course, NASCAR does host ‘Speedweeks’ at Daytona International Speedway, which offers The Advance Auto Parts Clash and the Gander RV Duels. The Clash is an exclusive exhibition race for only a few select drivers and the duels help to determine starting position for the DAYTONA 500. So while these two races do give drivers a chance to practice, it again isn’t a true preseason for the drivers and team in NASCAR.

In IndyCar however, drivers are given the opportunity to participate in a spring training each year. Here in South Florida, we are very familiar with Major League Baseball’s form of spring training as the Washington Nationals, St. Louis Cardinals, New York Mets, Miami Marlins and Houston Astros hold their yearly training just a few hours north of our Speedway. Every year these clubs flock to the warm weather in Jupiter, Port St. Lucie and West Palm Beach to get ready for their upcoming season.

Just like baseball teams are drawn to Florida for spring training at this time of the year in part because of the tropical weather, so too is IndyCar’s Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires. The Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires will be holding its spring training right here at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Saturday, Sunday and Monday, March 2-4.

The Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires is a driver and team development program comprised of three NTT IndyCar sanctioned divisions – Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship, Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires. Road to Indy is arguably the most successful driver improvement program across all of motorsports. In fact, in the 2018 Indianapolis 500, 25 of the 33 drivers were graduates of the program, including some of the biggest names in racing such as three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves, and three-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon.

So as I walk around the garages during spring training the next few days, I expect to feel a sense of optimism and excitement from many of the drivers there, knowing that they soon could be racing at IndyCar’s highest level. I especially am looking forward to how the drivers from South Florida perform. In all, there will be five drivers from South Florida participating in the spring training.

Most notably, Oliver Askew, a Jupiter native, will be competing for an Indy Lights championship this season. Last year he scored the fastest times during spring training here at Homestead-Miami Speedway and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him do the same thing on Monday. Along with Askew, Miami native Lucas Kohl will be competing in the Indy Lights division while Kyle Kirkwood, Darren Keane and Reece Gold – who hail from Jupiter, Boca Raton and Miami, respectively – will all run in the USF2000 Championship this season.

Each of these drivers will be focused on one goal this year, to win their division championship. Road to Indy offers a scholarship for each division winner to advance to the next series. For Askew and Kohl, they’ll be racing for a $1.1 million scholarship to run a set number of races in the NTT IndyCar Series, including the 2020 Indianapolis 500.

It’s great to see so many South Floridians involved in auto racing. Although our marquee event here at the track is NASCAR’s Ford Championship Weekend, both the Speedway and the city of Miami have had a history of different types of auto racing whether it be IndyCar, which used to run at the Speedway, or the prototypes you used to see run through the streets of Miami when our founder Ralph Sanchez started the Grand Prix of Miami.

So as the Road to Indy season gets underway, I’ll be keeping my eyes on local drivers such as Askew as they attempt to reach IndyCar’s premier series and become the first driver born in Florida to win the Indianapolis 500 since Melbourne native Jim Rathmann won the race in 1960.

I hope that in years to come we’ll continue to see the emergence of local drivers across all types of motorsports. I’ve discussed previously in this space two young drivers, Nick Sanchez and Ernie Francis Jr., who are making waves as part of NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity program. Hearing about all of these drivers’ experiences at both Homestead-Miami Speedway and our adjacent karting facility help me realize that Ralph Sanchez’s vision for the Speedway to become the epicenter of racing in South Florida has become a reality and it’s great to see so many drivers that are living proof of that.

NASCAR ACTION THIS WEEKEND

Sunday, March 3 at 3:30 PM (ET)

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Pennzoil 400 presented by Jiffy Lube at Las Vegas Motor Speedway

Tune In: FOX and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio Channel 90

Saturday, March 2 at 4:00 PM (ET)

NASCAR Xfinity Series Boyd Gaming 300 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway

Tune In: FS1 and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio Channel 90

Friday, March 1 at 9:00 PM (ET)

NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series Strat 200 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway

Tune In: FS1 and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio Channel 90

UPCOMING EVENTS AT HOMESTEAD-MIAMI SPEEDWAY

Mar. 2-4

Road to Indy Spring Training

Mar. 8

Fast Lane Friday

Mar. 22

Fast Lane Friday

Mar. 30

Performance Driving Group

Mar. 31

Florida Track Days

Apr. 5 Fast Lane Friday

Apr. 6-7

Chin Motorsports Car Club

Apr. 20-21

Sports Car Club of America

Apr. 27-28 Championship Cup Series

2019 HOMESTEAD-MIAMI SPEEDWAY NASCAR DATES

Nov. 15

Ford EcoBoost 200 Gander Outdoors Truck Series Championship Race

Nov. 16

Ford EcoBoost 300 XFINITY Series Championship Race

Nov. 17

Ford EcoBoost 400 Monster Energy Series Championship

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