Every racer has their favorite track, as does every fan—and indeed every journalist. Mine would be Phoenix. Phoenix International Raceway, otherwise known as PIR, is one of the most fun tracks NASCAR visits. Nestled into the foothills of the vast Arizona desert, the one mile oval produces some of the best racing the series has to offer.
Phoenix is a classic track. It hosts IndyCar, NASCAR, the sprints and midgets for the Copper Classic, along with a number of other series and races. The greats—Foyt, Andretti, Earnhardt—have charged down its low banks and battled against its walls. In the early days of the track Native Americans would watch the race sat on horseback in the surrounding hills, and you had to be careful walking in the infield because it was filled with rattlesnakes. It was a track with character, charm, and just a touch of the Wild West. There was no lifting at PIR—it was flat out racing, and it was incredible.
In recent years, the track had undergone scrutiny. The death of IndyCar driver Dan Wheldon brought mutterings of an out-dated track that were heard within several series’. However, the track continued to hold two NASCAR events annually and remained a fan favorite. Still it was a surprise when officials announced that the historic Speedway was going to undergo a major facelift—one that would carry the track into the future.
Included in the renovations will be a revamping of the infield that will include a fan zone and hospitality area. Seating will also be improved, including a new pedestrian tunnel, to give fans a more complete experience and the ability to see most all of the race from the infield or their seats. The plans also held what the officials referred to as “Canyons” which consist of elevators and escalators to increase the fan experience by giving them additional access to restroom facilities and the new expanded concessions located in a newly created midway area.
In addition, the start finish line will be moved to what is currently Turn 2 to accommodate the changes that are coming. The entire structure is going to get a make over, with increased safety features for drivers, teams, and fans.
Phoenix is one of those classic tracks. It has helped shaped the history of not only NASCAR, but IndyCar and other series’ as well. Andretti’s last win; dodging rattlesnakes in the infield while waiting for the Copper Classic to start; watching the entire field of stock cars wrap around the perfect oval—it has memories for me, and for many race fans, that comprise some of the fondest moments of our lives and helped fan the flames of our passion for racing.
To some it will be hard to see the classic track change, especially the moving of the start finish line—there is always something about that changing that particular aspect of a track that is unsettling. It is important we hang onto those memories and enjoy them, without forgetting that time marches on, and racing is always evolving. The renovations of PIR are moving it into the future—they are modernizing a classic—and in so doing preserving the past while embracing the future.