BROWNSBURG — The main action last weekend in the winner’s circle at the 58th running of the U.S. Nationals was trickling down from the sky in the form of rain, causing the first suspension of the event since 2003.
But while the remnants of Hurricane Isaac dampened the track, it doesn’t appear to have dampened fan interest. The race, postponed until this weekend, should still be heavily attended.
“We hope they’ll be back, and we hope all the local people, whether it’s Indiana or a couple hour’s radius away, hope they’ll be able to come back,” said Scott Smith, senior communications manager for the NHRA. “If they can’t make it back, they will get a credit toward next year’s tickets. We really just want to make sure we can take care of everybody as well as we can.”
Josh Duke with the Hendricks County Convention and Visitors Bureau said they’ve been hearing from race fans.
“We had several calls yesterday about the schedule for next weekend and regarding ticket information, a lot about tickets for this weekend being honored or calls about things to do this week,” he said.
Smith said social media is playing a part in letting them know what to expect this weekend.
“We’ve had a lot on Facebook, a lot of tweets,” he said. “Seems like a lot of the same people are going to come back. The biggest thing was the ticket question and what the schedule was going to be. The HCCVB does a lot for us during the course of the year and they had guest services tents out here so they were able to help with lodging issues and questions.”
Allan Bolante, who owns Comfort Inn and Suites in Brownsburg, says the week-long delay is a benefit for hotels but, based on history, it typically doesn’t involve returning fans from the previous week.
“I’m in a unique situation because I have mostly race teams staying, such as John Force Racing, and they chose to stay put instead of leaving and coming back, but I’ve had some other people that were here from the weekend that were coming back Friday through Sunday,” he said.
Bolante noted that he was completely booked up last week in spite of the constant rain. With the rain delay in 2003, however, he said a lot of fans were unable to come back because of scheduling conflicts so most of the returning fans that year were locals.
“I don’t think most of them will be back because, in speaking with some of the folks at the track last weekend, they saved up all year for this Labor Day week vacation and if they’re from out of town, they’re not coming back because that vacation time is already gone,” he said.
“The people we feel the worst for are all the great fans. You always see fewer fans, but you also see fewer racers,” said Wolf, noting all the pro category teams will be back, but those who are not likely are forced to move onto other races. “It’s tough and expensive. It’s almost like adding an additional event to the 23 race schedule. Fans are going to incur greater costs too.”
The race teams face a different challenge. The rain delay gives the NHRA circuit six straight weekends of work, whereas this weekend was originally going to be an off one for them.
“For Schumacher racing and all the other pro teams that are based in Brownsburg, it isn’t as much of a challenge as some of the other teams,” said Jeff Wolf of Don Schumacher Racing. “If we had to have a race weekend rained out, at least it’s in our backyard. I know our machine shop, while we’re racing at LOR, they’re going to be in here building engines so we can take most of them on the road as we head to Charlotte.”
He said fans could see some prestigious records fall, especially Sunday due to the outlook of mid 70s weather.
“There could be some national records set in the fuel category,” Wolf said, noting that low humidity will enable more power. “You’re always looking for that magical mix of air and nitro methane. If it’s real hot and sunny and the track gets too hot, it’ll get slippery and it’s harder for the tires to hold the track. If the track is warm, that’s good, and 70 degrees is going to keep the track temperatures down.”
Smith said fans who had tickets for last weekend’s event who are coming back this weekend will be able to get in without having a long, drawn out process. He said many of the race teams left their equipment here, and he hasn’t heard from any fans who might be camping out at the LOR campground.
Another positive from the rain out is that Hendricks County should end up seeing an economic windfall with the event being stretched into two weekends.
“We don’t have any research to back it up, but when people come to visit, they need places to go during the down times and local restaurants see an up tick, especially in the Brownsburg area,” Duke said. “We’re just hoping for good weather because we know this is the premiere drag racing event for the NHRA and Hendricks County.”
Richard Sutton, owner of Hurricane Grill and Wings in Brownsburg, said they benefited from the race.
“I can tell you we did see a pretty good up tick in business,” he said. “Everybody said it was going to happen, but I didn’t expect it this much. We had new guests and they were all related to racing. We’ve already had three or four big party requests for this Saturday. Last week we didn’t have them (reserved) out necessarily, but big groups just kept walking in.”
Still, the postponement is rare.
“The last time was in 2003,” Smith said. “The same situation happened and we kind of did some of the same things. Our main focus is just that we put on a good event. We still have some drivers that are trying to get into the countdown for the championship. We still have the Traxxas shoot-out on Saturday that will pay $100,000 to the winner. On Sunday now is when we’ll hold eliminations. There will still be a MAC Tools U.S. Nationals winner. I heard drivers say that it doesn’t matter when it is, when I hold that trophy, I can for the rest of my life say I won the MAC Tools U.S. Nationals.”