Coyne Cultivates Midwest Roots With Raceway Vision
April 26, 2000 | 12:00 A.M. EST
The affable entrepreneur was instrumental in building Route 66 Raceway, home to both a drag strip and a dirt track, 30 miles south of Chicago. Coyne still maintains a minority ownership in the new track being developed by Raceway Associates, a company over which he presides.
Soon the roar of Winston Cup motors and the hum of Indy car engines will be heard on the 1.5 mile D-shaped oval by over 75,000 race fans just miles from his family farm in Minooka, Ill. where he was raised.
"When the original nine owners got together -- and I was one of the last ones to get into that group -- they had visions of building a little racetrack in the backyard and maybe try to grow and expand it," Coyne said.
"It was because of the work I had done in CART, the facilities I've seen around the world and the respect I have for what Roger Penske, Bruton Smith and the Japanese have built, that I said we need to build this at a high level. It was because we built the first track at a high level that Bill France and Tony George felt this was the type of environment they wanted to be involved with."
While studying horticulture at Purdue in 1974, Coyne competed in Show Room Stock cars in the SCCA Series before graduating to Super Vee and Formula Atlantic. He made the move to the CART Series in 1984. Coyne competed in the series for almost five seasons before deciding to concentrate on the ownership side of the business.
In 1993, Coyne served as interim chief executive officer of CART before Andrew Craig came on board.
Coyne, 45, supports CART's current position to be a stand-alone series, but he would be open to a reunification of the Indy Racing Northern Light Series and CART. He admits that the talent pool in Indy racing has been depleted, as well as the fan base that has often been overshadowed by the floodgates of its NASCAR competitors.
Despite the fact that George, founder of the IRLNS and a partner with the France family in construction of the Joliet track, harbors his own open-wheel agenda, the pair have maintained a friendship throughout the construction process.
"Tony and I are the same age and we've both been drivers and we both love the sport of racing," Coyne said. "I think a lot of what we both want is the same, so we've been able to keep a unique friendship through all this. We both want the same -- open-wheel racing to be strong. Hopefully the politics can work themselves out and that can happen.
"I am certainly a fan of open-wheel racing and anything that can done to make open-wheel racing better, I would certainly be in favor of. CART and IRL have both played in Winston Cup houses that have 100,00-plus seats and it's difficult for the IRL or CART to fill those houses in some venues. So we need to work on our strengths and it would be great to see open wheel racing stronger than it is today."
In spite of divisive issues, Coyne thinks that both organizations have found a certain level of success that no one anticipated four of five years ago when the split between the two series occurred. He also added that in his opinion the two series co-exist and it would be put a stronger face on open-wheel racing if the organizations came to terms.
"There's been a renaissance of tracks being built in the five or six years. Winston Cup has grown so strong and you see more tracks being built. So at the same time, it would be good for (CART and IRL) to be unified, but there is also a lot of track product out there. So I think it would be difficult to satisfy the need with a strong open-wheel product because the cars are more cmplicated. Winston Cup running 34 races is something that would be difficult for the open wheelers to do, but still there is a need for a strong open-wheel product."
Although fellow CART team owner Chip Ganassi already established a racing presence in the area with Chicago Motor Speedway in Cicero, Ill., there is no doubt in Coyne's mind that there are plenty of race fans who are interested in a variety of motorsports.
"I don't think it's a problem. Actually, I think we compliment each other. Cicero is a different animal because of horse racing. They are still a multi-purpose facility, but half of the year is consumed with horse racing, which allows the to do some (auto) racing in the second half. Chicago is the second strongest motorsports in this country. I think Los Angeles is probably first and Chicago is the second.
"But I think we both (tracks) make each other stronger. You have a lot of CART races in the Midwest and Chicago is a strong market, so Cicero made sense. Again, being such a strong market so it can withstand both. If you look at the Los Angeles market, you've got the Long Beach race and you've got Fontana. While they're both in the same open-wheel series, you still have two race tracks in the same market and Laguna Seca isn't that far away from them."
Coyne praised Chicago Motor Speedway and indicated his teams enjoyed racing in Cicero. Nevertheless, he feels that the "tight, physical location" would not be conducive to a Winston Cup-size event.
"This just takes us to the next step," Coyne said. "Of course we all know what Winston Cup racing is and this is a facility that can accommodate that and it can accommodate the growth that Winston Cup has enjoyed all over the country. We have the land to expand and the area to park the people and we're just geared to being a better Winston Cup facility."
From a financial standpoint, Coyne is certain that there is enough disposable income to support both racing facilities.
"There's a lot of entertainment dollars being spent right now," Coyne said. "We had two very similar concerts here this summer back-to-back and that's an expensive ticket for a teenager to buy, but both shows sold out and enjoyed great success.
"In today's market there's a lot of entertainment dollars and the two are slightly different products at slightly different facilities and I think people will spend money on both. People already go to Michigan and they go to Indianapolis for races. Now, instead of going there and spending $100 a night for a hotel room, you can come here without getting a hotel room and I think that makes a pretty strong advantage for this market."
Just because he is a hometown boy, doesn't mean Coyne is biased when it comes to bringing a cutting edge facility to the Chicagoland area. The time has come to look beyond the smaller markets -- especially on the Winston Cup tour -- and concentrate on the expansion of motorsports into larger markets with modern multi-purpose racing facilities.
Coyne's latest venture has been strategically analyzed from the gr