What this area's Verizon IndyCar Series fans have feared for the last month became reality Thursday when Watkins Glen International released their its season schedule and the IndyCar Grand Prix at The Glen is absent from it.
After running the last two seasons at The Glen on Labor Day Weekend and plagued both years by poor attendance, especially this year with only about 10,000-15,000 fans there, The Glen will not host an IndyCar Series race next season.
Hamburg native and WGI president Michael Printup identified difficulty in drawing fans on a Labor Day Weekend date as the culprit that in his estimation proved too difficult. Neither side could come up with an alternative date that worked for 2018.
Printup said that the parting of ways with the IndyCar Series was a mutual decision made on behalf of himself and IndyCar.
When the scheduled inaugural IndyCar Series race set for Boston, Mass., on the Labor Day Weekend of 2016 fell through early last year, The Glen stepped forward in May of that year and formed a three year agreement to run an IndyCar Series event annually at The Glen through 2018. The current deal has now been terminated one year short.
Printup further stressed that both parties tried very hard to find a solution to allow the IndyCar Series to return next season but the race date dilemma proved unsolvable at this time.
The Glen is being replaced on the 2018 IndyCar Series schedule with a Labor Day Weekend event at Portland International Raceway. Portland last hosted Indy car type competition from 1984-2007 under both the former CART and Champ Car sanctions.
"IndyCar has such great people," Printup said. "It was a mutual decision. We talked right after this year's event with IndyCar and I said, 'hey guys can't we find a better date?' They worked really hard and we worked really hard. We threw a bunch of dates around and we looked and we chatted and went back to the drawing board. Both sides worked their tails off. I have a lot of respect for that. With me listening to them and them listening to me it was 50-50 that we just couldn't nail it down for 2018."
Printup says that the door for a possible return of the series to The Glen someday will always be open if the right circumstances prevail.
"We couldn't find a change of date that would work," Printup said. "We will now move on and continue our discussions for 2019, 2020 and beyond."
What was Printup's objection to a Labor Day date?
"Our region, the Watkins Glen region, is just loaded with a vacation weekend then," Printup said. "It's the last weekend before school. The kids just went back to college. Everybody is trying to get their last weekend of fun in. It's a mindset of course but holiday weekends in the northeast just don't work and I'm a true believer of that as far as racing is concerned. IndyCar agreed but you know we accepted Boston knowing that we would have to have it Labor Day then obviously and I was more than willing to give it that good old college try as they say but we just couldn't pull the strings together.
"This is what I love about current IndyCar Series management, Jay Frye (IndyCar president of competition and operations), Stephen Starks (IndyCar promoter relations) and everybody on the team is that this isn't a kick in the rear end and see you later type of deal. This was a hug and shaking hands moment. There was a lot of emotion. We both really enjoyed each other so we know that they belong here. They know they belong here-drivers, team owners, everybody involved with it, knows it. We just got to find the right mix to get the fans here.
"We didn't get a lot of fans here this last race and that's partly on us and partly on IndyCar. So that's why I think we had a good partnership. We were hand in hand and arm in arm all the way on this deal."
Watkins Glen management still has a full season of activity planned for 2018 including a few big traditional weekends on the docket.
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, NASCAR Xfinity Series and NASCAR K&N Pro Series East returns, Aug. 2-5. The Sahlen's Six Hours of The Glen featuring the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Series along with the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge, Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge and other IMSA companion series will roll at The Glen, June 28-July 1.
The SCCA Majors Super Tour runs June 22-24. The Finger Lakes Wine Festival is July 13-15. The U.S. Vintage Grand Prix hits the track Sept. 7-9.
"I always get giddy and excited and here I am going into my tenth racing season here and my ninth year and I'm still happy and humbled to be able to represent this race track," Printup said. "There's a lot of fun stuff that happens up here at Watkins Glen International and I've got the best seat in racing and we keep putting on the best show that we can for every body. So upward and onward is the key. This is one cool small town and we got it rockin."