There were two IndyCar races in Houston this past June. The races were run on a course laid out around the NRG Park parking lot with NRG Stadium and the Astrodome looming large in the background. The track was bumpy and dangerous. The first day saw racing in the rain, the second day saw racing during the extreme heat of a Houston summer afternoon.
This was the second year of the IndyCar series' return to Houston. And according to reports, it appears that IndyCar will not be returning to Houston for a third straight year. Because, apparently, running a car race on a stadium parking lot in the middle of the day in the summer in Houston isn't popular with the crowds.
If so, the IndyCar series in Houston was probably doomed the moment that IndyCar decided to end its season at the end of August. With the series running at overseas sites to start the season, there was just no place in the schedule to hold an event in Houston that made sense if the comfort of the drivers and spectators was to be taken into account. (IndyCar is going to New Orleans for a race in early April next season, which would seem good for Houston, but with NRG Stadium hosting the NCAA Men's Basketball Regional at the end of March, there probably wouldn't be enough time for track set-up).
These reports claiming the race will not run in 2015 did state there was a chance of a return in 2016 with the likely course being strewn about the runways of Ellington Field (a report from NBC Sports Net prior to last Sunday's race also said NRG Park was still a possibility). While Ellington Field might make for a decent course -- it can't be worse than that bumpy disaster at NRG Stadium -- it'd probably make for a disaster for fans trying to get to the place. Any person who makes the drive down the Gulf Freeway to Galveston knows the freeway becomes the equivalent of a parking lot around the exits leading to Ellington on normal days, and parking's not exactly abundant, though if the field can accommodate all the visitors from Wings Over Houston, it can probably find a way to handle the crowd for a car race.
But odds are that the IndyCar series is probably through with Houston. It already races on the Texas Speedway oval, and then there's that expensive, brand-new road course outside of Austin. The course already hosts Formula One every October, and adding IndyCar would be a nice coup. It's a shame IndyCar doesn't seem to work in Houston. Then again, race car drivers shouldn't be subjected to the crappiness that is the NRG Stadium parking lot. There have been attempts with the race in downtown Houston, but the streets there are worse than the NRG parking lot, and with all the changes in the area where the race was formerly held, it would probably be impossible to re-stage it there. And it just makes no sense to hold an event like this in Houston during the middle of the day in late June or early July.
It's not official that the race will not return next year -- the schedule's not supposed to be officially announced until after this season has finished. So it's possible that changes could happen and IndyCar returns next year (there are problems with where the race will be run in Toronto, for instance. And other cities are having issues with the proposed dates). But odds are that when the schedule's announced, Houston will be a no-go.
Hopefully race promoters, city and county officials, and potential race sponsors can put their heads together and come up with some way to stage the race in Houston again and again and again. Houston strives to be a metropolitan city, and this event seems to be the perfect event to bring in some big-spending international visitors, much like with Austin and Formula One. And seriously, if Houston can make a three-week-long rodeo work, it can find a way to make a car race work, right? The city successfully hosts all kinds of major sporting events (Super Bowls, All Star Games, NCAA Championships), so here's to hoping so-called smart folks can put their heads together and figure out some location where IndyCar can hold a successful race, even in the middle of summer.