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Roadblocks remain for IRL

    After he worked in operations for NHL teams Edmonton and Carolina, and before he took the job as president of the Portland Winter Hawks last fall, Doug Piper inquired about bringing an Indy Racing League event to Portland International Raceway.

    “We found the IRL people to be really professional, on top of it and really interested in Portland,” says Piper, who worked in conjunction with former Blazers executive Marshall Glickman on the IRL idea. “We felt the challenge was beyond us; in order for an IRL event to be truly successful, there has to be a certain component of corporate support. And it would have been difficult to create an environment that the corporate market would support, unless major work was done at PIR.

    “(Track manager) Mark Wigginton has done a fantastic job making it work financially. We talked with the City Council about the chance of (PIR) renovation …” and there was none, Piper concluded.

    Not that it’s a news flash, but the 17-race IRL season kicks off April 5 with the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg (Fla.) –and without Portland on the schedule.

    It has been two years since the defunct CART/Champ Car World Series’ 29-year run at PIR ended. And, given the big road block – lack of corporate sponsorship – that has flummoxed local promoters for a decade, it’s hard for people to be optimistic about a possible return of the roaring open-wheelers. Especially in this economy.

    The IRL has said it would like to race in Portland, even without major PIR improvements. Portland promoter Mike Nealy, whose Global Events Group ran the former CART/Champ Car race for many years, and Drew Mahalic, chief executive officer of the Oregon Sports Authority, met with IRL franchise development representatives last year, and the two sides still keep in touch. “It’s one of those pursuits where it’ll take a lot of work,” Mahalic says. “But we haven’t given up.”

    — Excerpt from The Portland Tribune, March 26, 2009


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