NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — IndyCar loves racing through the streets of Music City so much that the series is making Nashville the final race of the season and the stage for its annual awards starting in 2024.
Mark Miles, president and CEO of Penske Entertainment Corp., announced Thursday that the combination of Nashville and the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix will help elevate the IndyCar Series even higher globally.
“Next year’s race in Nashville will be an unbridled celebration of the most fierce and competitive motorsport on the planet, set against the backdrop of an innovative and breathtaking stage that includes one of the premier global entertainment districts in the world,” Miles said.
The change takes effect in 2024 with the Big Machine Grand Prix capping the series schedule Sept. 15. IndyCar’s Victory Lap Celebration will be held Sept. 16 at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center.
The Big Machine Music City Grand Prix concludes its original three-year contract with Sunday’s race. This event uses the NFL’s Tennessee Titans’ Nissan Stadium as a paddock and base with grandstands leading to the 2.17-mile course highlighted by speeding over the Korean Veterans War Memorial Bridge.
The Titans plan to break ground by spring 2024 in that parking lot for a new stadium the NFL team hopes to open for the 2027 season. That meant the course for this event was going to have to be relocated along with the fan zone just outside the stadium.
The course will remain 2.17 miles long with seven turns and still include the bridge where drivers reach speeds of 180 mph before hitting the brakes.
The course also will feature the Country Music Hall of Fame with IndyCars speeding into Nashville’s historic entertainment district and past honky tonks owned by Garth Brooks, Dierks Bentley, Luke Bryan, Alan Jackson and Miranda Lambert along with the Country Music Hall of Fame.
The three-day event also is part music festival. Carly Pearce is singing the national anthem before Sunday’s race.
IndyCar’s final race this season is at Monterey, and Miles said that location will remain on the 2024 series schedule that has yet to be released.
“WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca remains a beloved, historic venue for our teams, drivers and fans in an important and scenic market,” Miles said.
This change is a massive step in growth for Nashville with Sunday’s race just the third year for this event.
Jason Rittenberry, the president and CEO of the Big Machine Grand Prix, said they never had an idea from the start they would be in such a position in the IndyCar hierarchy. The initial goal was making Nashville one of the series’ premier events behind only the Indianapolis 500.
“We didn’t set out to be, ‘Hey, we’re going to end the season here in Nashville and crown a champion here,’” Rittenberry said.
“But after year one and year two, the IndyCar community, the IndyCar Penske Entertainment team, IndyCar team and all the teams that participate, they all saw what Nashville has to bring to the table with the nightlife, with the activities, all of their sponsors. This has become a not miss event.”
Demand for the race has grown so much that organizers added several thousand new grandstands over last year. Rittenberry said the new course layout will allow fans to watch from the honky tonks along Lower Broad.
Driver Colton Herta recently moved to the Nashville area and said Music City loves IndyCar as much as the drivers and fans do.
“It’s an event that is super fun for us to do, and I’m sure it’s probably even a lot more fun for the fans that get to go hang out and do all this fun stuff that the city has to offer,” Herta said. “But yeah, I hope it’s on the schedule for many years to come because it is an awesome event.”
AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing
Teresa M. Walker, The Associated Press