It's official: NASCAR is coming back to Iowa in a big way.
Ben Kennedy, NASCAR's senior vice president of racing development and strategy, joined Gov. Kim Reynolds to announce Tuesday that NASCAR will hold a Cup Series race in 2024 at Iowa Speedway in Newton.
"As governor, I am confident that not only will we meet the expectations of NASCAR and its fans, we will exceed them," Reynolds said.
The race will take place June 16, preceded by an ARCA Menards Series race June 14 and a NASCAR Xfinity Series race June 15. Iowa Speedway on Tuesday was taking $25 deposits for "priority access" when tickets become available. Michelle Grant in the track's office said phones were "blowing up" with would-be purchasers, but that no date had been set for actual ticket sales.
Overlooking the Cup Series trophy and a Ford Mustang in NASCAR livery as they spoke from a podium on the grounds of the Iowa Capitol, Reynolds and Kennedy were flanked by VIPs including NASCAR Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace, designer of the speedway, and Brad Keselowski, a current top driver in the Cup Series.
The Cup Series races are the largest on the circuit for NASCAR, the top motorsports organization in America in terms of viewership and revenue and second worldwide only to European-based Formula 1. They draw some of the sports' biggest stars, including Keselowski, Kyle Larson and Kyle Busch, and are nationally televised.
The Iowa Corn Growers Association will sponsor the race, and the cars will be fueled with Sunoco Green E15, a specialized NASCAR fuel containing ethanol. Iowa leads the nation in production of ethanol, which absorbs half of the state's nation-leading corn crop.
Rusty Wallace: Cup Series at Iowa Speedway a 'dream come true'
Iowa Speedway, which Keselowski at Tuesday's announcement called "one of the best tracks in the U.S.," opened in 2006 and has previously hosted the NASCAR Xfinity and Truck series. The 0.875-mile oval also hosts the annual Hy-Vee IndyCar Race Weekend, scheduled for July 13 and 14 in 2024.
Hy-Vee says its IndyCar race weekend, with concerts as well as racing, drew 85,000 fans this year. The NASCAR Cup Series race is expected to be even larger. Reynolds cited an estimated economic impact of $100 million.
Wallace has advocated to land a Cup Series race at the track since its construction, saying he never got a call asking his thoughts on bringing one there because NASCAR officials already were well acquainted with his opinion.
He said he got the opportunity to showcase the speedway a couple of years ago when it hosted an ARCA race with NASCAR CEO Jim France in attendance.
“I remember Mr. France leaving and going, ‘Boy, this is a cool place,’" he said. "I was hoping we’d get it.”
Wallace said Tuesday's announcement was a "dream come true."
"Today's our day," he said. "We finally got it."
Star driver Keselowski: Track will showcase drivers' sheer skill
It's also a dream come true for some NASCAR Cup Series drivers, none more so than Keselowski, who like Wallace has been touting the track for years.
A big reason drivers see Iowa Speedway as something “we can all get behind,” Keselowski said, is its progressive banking, which allows racers to truly even the playing field, elevating their sheer skill to the forefront.
“It's its own type of track. It's got its own identity, and I think that's really important too,” Keselowski said. “One of the great things about that facility is there's nothing else like it.”
He also cited the energy of Iowa racing fans.
This will be the first time since 2019 that NASCAR will hold a race at Iowa Speedway, though it purchased the track in 2013. An Xfinity race was scheduled for 2020, but was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Iowa Corn Growers head: NASCAR perfect platform for promoting ethanol
Craig Floss, CEO of the Iowa Corn Growers Association, said the Iowa race was hastily arranged, filling in a slot on the Cup Series circuit created by the pullout of Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California.
“We always dreamed about the potential of a Cup race and folks know that," Floss said. "I got a call (from NASCAR) last week and they said, 'Would you guys be interested?'
“This is really good for us. No. 1 corn state, No. 1 ethanol-producing state and our farmers are huge NASCAR fans around the country, and the reach of a NASCAR race is huge for us," he said. "So as we look at it from an education and promotional opportunity to tell people about this great biofuel that we're growing in Iowa, and NASCAR is really a perfect platform to be able to do that.”
He said that based on fan enthusiasm and how much the professional drivers enjoy the track, the race could continue at Iowa Speedway beyond 2024. There is no guarantee, he acknowledged, but "I think this is going to be a huge success.”
With Cup Series race, can Iowa Speedway fulfill its potential?
Built at a cost of $70 million, Iowa Speedway, just south of Interstate 80, has never achieved the sort of success initially hoped for, and fetched a price of just $10 million when NASCAR bought it 10 years ago. But Newton Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Amanda Price said development around it could take off if the track can become a regular stop on the NASCAR Cup series.
Just 35 miles east of Des Moines, "We are close to other communities that have more motel accommodations, but we'd really like to be able to keep more of the revenue from hotel-motel taxes here," Price said. "If we can get Cup races on a more permanent basis, that may spur development in areas available around the track."
Currently, restaurants are the primary beneficiary of race weeks in Newton, but the Indy car teams are in town all week, which also helps grocery stores, she said.
"We already have a great small business community here in Newton, and if we can get Cup races, it will elevate those businesses even more," she said.
The track's stands seat just 25,000, plus 5,000 in areas set aside for RVs, as compared to some superspeedways that also host Cup Series races, like Daytona and Talladega, with capacities of 80,000 to 100,000. However, Hy-Vee spokesperson Tina Potthoff said the track has added 17,000 seats for the IndyCar races, for a total of nearly 50,000.
Though the 2024 race will be Iowa's first since 1953 in the Cup Series, according to NASCAR, the state has a long history with the organization. Knoxville Raceway, about 30 miles south of Iowa Speedway, is a major venue for racing sprint cars, which served as a stepping stone for NASCAR legends like Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart and current driver Kyle Larson, and is the home of the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame & Museum.
This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Kim Reynolds, NASCAR announce top series coming to Iowa Speedway