Indycar Night Fever
June 9, 2004 | 3:51 P.M. EST
“The cars look faster, they look brighter,” says Gossage, who will welcome the IndyCar Series to the 1.5-mile Fort Worth facility June 10 for practice and qualifying. The Bombardier 500 is scheduled for 8:15 p.m. (EDT) on ESPN and the IMS Radio Network. Al Unser Jr. is the defending champion.
“Whether it’s the competitors or the fans, it’s just a different atmosphere. We’ve had the full moon hanging right over the back straightaway looking like it’s 10 feet off the ground. It’s just been a perfect fit.”
The show is one of three this season at night. The SunTrust Indy Challenge is scheduled for June 26 at Richmond International Raceway and the Firestone Indy 200 will take place July 17 at Nashville Superspeedway.
Indianapolis 500 winner Buddy Rice, who climbed in his first go-kart just over a decade ago in the Arizona desert, appreciates the aesthetics and relishes the competition at night. Lights are not a distraction, but rather add to the color and atmosphere.
“From living in Phoenix and it always being hot there, we used to race go-karts more than half the year in the dark,” he said. “I really enjoy the night races. I wish we had more of them. I really like the way the cars look under the lights. It’s a totally different perspective.”
Pennzoil Panther Racing driver Tomas Scheckter, who recorded his first IndyCar Series pole position at Texas in 2002, and his compatriots say their perspective is not all that different than day races because of the blanket of light on the racing surface and pit road. The lighting is uniform and shadows and glare are eliminated by visors on each strategically placed fixture.
“It’s not a big change for me in the way I drive and do things, but I really enjoy it,” Scheckter said. “I think it makes you look further down the road. These tracks are so well-lighted these days that it’s like running in the daytime. You can see more in night racing than during the day. It’s crystal-clear around the tracks.”
That’s supremely important, according to Gossage, who oversaw construction of the facility and has been involved in auto racing for 25 seasons.
“You don’t just have to see a ball flying through the air; you have to see every little detail on the racetrack to avoid any problems that might get in your way,” said Gossage, who noted that the permanent light fixtures ringing the outside and inside of the track could bathe 11 NFL stadiums in light.
Still, getting accustomed to racing at night takes time. For Gil de Ferran, his visit to Texas Motor Speedway in 2002 also was the first time he had driven an open-wheel car at night.
“For me, the No. 1 challenge that I face during a night race is adjusting my vision to the dark conditions,” de Ferran said. “While the track is illuminated, the look of the circuit is very different from that of a day race. There is nothing that can be done about it, you just have to get used to it and adjust visually to the nighttime conditions.”
It didn’t take long. De Ferran won the night race at Nashville in 2003, six weeks after winning the Indianapolis 500.