Home » I Am Begging You To Care About Portland International Raceway And The Race This Weekend

I Am Begging You To Care About Portland International Raceway And The Race This Weekend

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This weekend the NASCAR Xfinity Series is headed west to Portland, OR for a little bit of road course racing at Portland International Raceway, while the Cup and Craftsman truck series are in St. Louis to race at Worldwide Technology Raceway. The race at PIR is the only remaining standalone race on the Xfinity Series schedule, a far departure from this series’ past.

Standalone races used to make up a significant chunk of the Xfinity series’ schedule. Going back fifteen years, nine of the thirty-five races were standalone events where the Cup series was elsewhere and Xfinity (then Nationwide) was the headliner. Amusingly enough, three of those tracks (Nashville, Gateway, and Iowa) now host Cup series races, and two (Kentucky and Road America) have come and gone from the NASCAR schedule entirely. Even the truck series would venture out on its own with events at Ohio’s Eldora Speedway and Mosport in Canada. For years, the trucks also played a supporting role to Indycar races at Texas Motor Speedway and Iowa Speedway.

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When the original pre-Covid Xfinity series schedule was released, there were still four standalone events planned, two in Iowa, one at Road America, and one at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. Fast forward to 2024 and there is only one.

Why You Should Care

This weekend’s race in Portland, OR is an important one for NASCAR as a whole. The Pacific Northwest has traditionally been a forgotten region when it comes to national series events. Take a look at the map below, which shows every track that NASCAR has raced at in the last fifteen years. You will notice one region that is chronically unserved.

Portland 1

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The reason for this has nothing to do with a lack of racetracks or large urban centers in the region. If we take the same map and overlay in red the racetracks that have hosted ARCA West (formerly K&N Pro Series West) races in that same time frame, a different picture begins to emerge.

Portland 2

The greater Pacific Northwest region is full of race tracks, race fans, and racers who deserve to have NASCAR racing in their area. When the Xfinity series first ran at Portland in 2022, fan turnout shocked everyone in the garage. KGW8 Portland reported that the inaugural event was a grandstand sellout. Including general admission tickets, the event was attended by nearly 50,000 people throughout the weekend. We may have raced in monsoon-like rain, but that didn’t deter fan enthusiasm one bit. I spoke to a fan in the garage area before the race who said he had driven over five hours from Montana to be there. When I asked him why he said “I was afraid if people didn’t buy tickets that you guys wouldn’t come back.” These fans want us there and their enthusiasm deserves to be rewarded. Currently, the closest track to Portland, OR that hosts a national series race is in Sonoma, CA roughly ten hours away by car.

The death of standalone races in post-Covid NASCAR is something that I truly hope can be addressed in future seasons. For their entire history, the lower two of NASCAR’s three national touring series ventured off on their own multiple times per year. These races were often in markets that weren’t deemed large enough for a Cup series event or took place at a facility that wasn’t quite up to Cup standards. In some cases, fan enthusiasm and the quality of racing were enough to prompt the Cup series to come to these markets to race. Iowa Speedway was home to standalone races for ten years and is hosting its first Cup series race this year on June 16th. Standalone events are a fundamental and necessary part of the NASCAR ecosystem. Most of their facilities may not have the fancy suites or hospitality infrastructure that the Cup series would require, but they still have fans that turn up in droves.

More importantly, the droves of fans that turned up might not have even been NASCAR fans. These standalone races served the critical function of exposing motorsport fans to NASCAR racing who otherwise would have been unlikely to see a race in person. Road America, located in Elkhart Lake, WI, just south of Green Bay, was a shining example of this. While the track did host the Cup series in 2021 and 2022, it served as an Xfinity standalone from 2010 to 2020 and again in 2023 before sadly being dropped from the schedule completely. By car, Road America sits seven hours from the Cup series race at Michigan International Speedway and nine hours from Kansas Speedway. It would be a tall task to get a casual fan to drive that far, let alone fly, to go check out a NASCAR race. So, we brought the Xfinity series to them.

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Portland 3
Victory Lane with Sam Mayer after the final scheduled NASCAR race at Road America

While the Xfinity cars were the headliner, the entire weekend served as a sort of motorsports festival with multiple other series sharing the track. The support series included a rotating assortment of Trans Am, Porsche Carrera GT3 Cup, Ferrari Challenge, Grid Life Touring Cup, Mazda MX5 Pro Cup, Formula 3 and Stadium Super Trucks. The beauty of this weekend was that it was filled with motorsport fans, not necessarily just NASCAR fans. Anyone coming out to see GT3 cars, Trans Am, or Stadium Super Trucks is a petrol head. They love all things horsepower. They may not be a NASCAR fan specifically, but they’re already fans of racing. When we talk about attendance and TV numbers this is the easiest possible demographic to engage with. The foundation is already there. They just need to be exposed to our racing. The Xfinity series played a key role in exposing road racing fans to stock car racing with standalone events at circuits like Road America, Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, and even Mexico City. Now, Portland International Raceway is the only one left.

The same theory applies to race weekends when the Craftsman truck series was playing second fiddle to Indycar. If someone bought a ticket to watch an Indycar race in Texas or Iowa, they clearly already have an interest in cars going fast around an oval. All we have to do now is show them how cool it is when we go around an oval too. Currently, the only remaining standalone race for the Craftsman truck series takes place at the Milwaukee Mile in August, one week before the Indycar event.

I strongly believe that one of the easiest ways to grow our sport is to get back to running more of these standalone events. Yes, Netflix shows and social media are great but it’s a long road to get someone from completely unexposed to racing all the way to buying a ticket or tuning in regularly on Sundays. The lowest hanging fruit lies in bringing fans of other forms of motorsport under a shared umbrella. The Xfinity Series and Craftsman trucks need to be out there sharing weekends with IMSA and Indycar or visiting short tracks in markets far removed from the Cup series schedule. Seattle, Boise, Salt Lake City, Denver and Albuquerque all have tracks that would put on fantastic racing. There are hordes of gearheads and racing fans in these forgotten regions, we just have to reach them.

Unfortunately, the lack of practice time and on-track activity throughout the weekend in post-Covid NASCAR is a key factor that will likely hinder any developments on this front. Let’s take a look back at a typical pre-Covid standalone weekend schedule. On the weekend of July 27-29, 2018, the Xfinity Series raced at Iowa Speedway with the K&N Pro Series in support. At the same time, 978 miles away, the Cup series was at Pocono Raceway with support from the Craftsman truck series and ARCA.

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Fans with a weekend ticket to Pocono Raceway would see four hours of practice plus ARCA qualifying and racing on Friday which was followed by two hours of practice, two qualifying sessions, and a Craftsman truck series race on Saturday before capping off the weekend with the Cup series race on Sunday. In Iowa, fans would get to see two and a half hours of practice plus K&N qualifying and racing on Friday, followed up with Xfinity Series qualifying and racing on Saturday. In today’s racing even if all five series were at the same track that weekend fans would see over four hours less of on-track activity.

The standalone weekend may be a relic of the past for now, so we should cherish what’s left of the tradition this weekend in Portland. With enough fan support, this event will (hopefully) become a staple of the Xfinity series schedule long into the future. I’ll get off of my soapbox now, and we can dig into more about Portland International Raceway. If you’re new to this series, check out my piece from Circuit of the Americas for a technical deep dive into the nuances of hustling a stock car around a road course.

How To Race PIR

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Source: Portland International Raceway website

As far as road courses go, Portland International Raceway is a fairly simple one. Two long straightaways, two heavy braking zones, one chicane and one switchback section with almost zero elevation change. Let’s take a lap around the track onboard with Cole Custer and then break down what we see.

 

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The first chicane, consisting of Turns 1-3, is the primary overtaking zone on this circuit. A 90-degree entry and heavy deceleration zone opens the door for drivers trying to out brake one another at the end of the straightaway. The apex of Turn 2 tends to see a lot of contact during wheel-to-wheel battling. The driver on the right-hand side has the advantage of being able to accelerate in a straighter line while also being able to bully the driver to their left across the apex curbs and force them to accelerate while taking a tighter radius. To combat this, the inside driver will try to force the outside driver as far wide as possible so that they can accelerate in a straighter line and get a run down towards Turn 4.

Ambitious out-braking attempts into this first chicane will likely see several drivers get turned around or be forced to run wide to avoid contact. If a driver misses the first chicane there is a series of bollards that they must weave through before rejoining the circuit as a means to negate any time gained by shortcutting. The rule for missing the chicane is depicted below.

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Image: NASCAR

The switchback section of Turns 4-7 allows for side-by-side racing through multiple corners. In Turns 4 and 5 both left and right lane drivers are on fairly equal footing. The left-lane driver can take a higher speed along the wider radius while the right-lane driver struggles to apply the throttle along their tighter corner radius. Turn 6 gives a slight advantage to the left-hand driver but then Turn 7 immediately gives it back to the right-hand driver. It’s fairly common to see drivers stay wheel-to-wheel through this section and the battle is determined by who has better traction on the exit of Turn 7 as drivers accelerate onto the long back straightaway where they will reach the highest speeds of the lap at around 170mph.

Turns 9 through 12 are where we see drivers make the most mistakes. The straight-line, semi-switchback nature of Turns 9 and 10 often bait drivers into carrying too much entry speed and trying to hustle the car into Turn 11. By the time they realize their mistake they are likely already bouncing through the grass on the outside of the raceway. Fortunately, there is ample runoff and they should be able to make their way back onto the circuit after the field has blown by and left them in the literal dust.

As I rambled endlessly about earlier, the Xfinity series is on its own this weekend in Portland, OR. This also means that the traditional pit crews will be in St. Louis with the other two series. In an effort to save teams the expense and headache of flying pit crews back and forth between Portland, OR, and St. Louis, MO, the regular road crew mechanics and engineers will be performing pit stops this weekend. For our team I will be carrying front tires, second engineer Josh Lewis will be carrying rear tires, car chief Pat Martin will be operating the jack, underneath mechanic Kyle Stevens will be changing rear tires, shop mechanic Steven Broy will be changing front tires, and hauler driver Brian Sollars will be fueling the car while crew chief Mardy Lindley holds the pit sign. Our first several attempts at a pit stop were laughable, and I will keep that in the back of my mind the next time I want to complain after a slow pit stop.

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To keep things both safe and fair, there are several differences in how the pit lane is officiated this weekend. First, and most noticeable, crew members are not allowed to jump off the wall before the car comes to a stop in the pit box. Once the car has come to a complete stop, crew members are allowed to leave the pit wall and begin service. Secondly, a minimum pit road speed rule is in play of 63 seconds. It takes 23-ish seconds to drive from pit entry to pit exit and then add roughly 4 seconds for entering and exiting the stall, this gives teams about 36 seconds to perform a pit stop. The 63-second minimum time is noteworthy as cars at race pace will be lapping PIR in 77-ish seconds so it is still possible to make a pit stop without going a lap down. Damage repair and flat tires are the exceptions to this rule where the minimum pit road time is not in effect, provided no other service is done aside from replacing the flat tire (and only the flat tire) or repairing damage.

These semi-controlled pit stops are a blast and it’s a fun mix of young crew members who have always wanted to try their hand at pitting and veterans getting to relive their glory days. Justin Allgaier’s hauler driver, Mark “Hollywood” Armstrong was a long-time front tire changer and used to be ESPN’s in-race pit reporter.

JRM Competition Director Mike Bumgarner was formerly a tire changer for Kyle Busch in the #5 Kellog’s car at Hendrick Motorsports. Not to make them feel old or anything, but some of the pit equipment that got dusted off for practice gave me childhood flashbacks.

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Image: Author

The lone remaining standalone race this weekend at Portland International Raceway is a hidden gem on the schedule and a beloved treat for the local race fans. It deserves to become a mainstay on our schedule, and I hope y’all will join us for the ride this weekend.

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Daniel MacDonald
Daniel MacDonald
9 days ago

Never been a NASCAR fan but went to an XFINITY race at PIR last summer and can say it was a blast. Those cars are a lot of fun to watch on a street circuit, with their lower downforce they run a lot looser than the prototypes and sports cars I’ve spectated before, and there’s a lot of great racing action. I may be biased as a long time PNW resident but I really do think you get less of the good ol boy vibe since it’s in Portland. Beyond the typical burgers and hotdogs, there was a vietnamese food truck, surprisingly decent tacos, and great local beers.

This race was supported by a lower tier stock car series that was almost as much as fun as the XFINITY drivers with a lot of wild action since the drivers are less experienced and a Spec Miata race. Going back this August with some friends to watch the Indy car race. If you haven’t been to an actual road race I can’t recommend it enough, way better than on TV, you can basically walk around the whole thing and spectate every corner through the course of a race weekend, it’s a very lowkey chill vibe. Having spectated recently at Laguna Seca and Road Atlanta I didn’t have real high expectations for PIR and came away pleasantly surprised.

Don’t let all the fox news scare you away Portland is a great city with an incredible food and bar scene in a beautiful part of the country and a lot of fun to visit. We live in Seattle and probably go visit a few times a year for a change of pace.

Daniel MacDonald
Daniel MacDonald
7 days ago
Reply to  Aedan McHugh

It’s such a bummer for how much the PNW is a haven for car enthusiasts there’s not much professional racing here. There was talk of a Herman Tilke designed circuit getting built in Bremerton, WA but I think the project got put on hold 🙁 hope PIR continues to pull big names like NASCAR and Indy.

Goffo Sprezzatura
Goffo Sprezzatura
9 days ago

The nicest thing I can say about the headline is that it’s less cringey than my grandma begging me to come to church on Easter

Urban Runabout
Urban Runabout
10 days ago

Boring.

You know what’s interesting?

Formula E

And SailGP
(did you see the Bermuda races? Halifax Day Two is this weekend)

Aardvark775
Aardvark775
10 days ago

Sorry, can’t care. NASCAR is garbage racing for the worst sort of American dirt bags. Portland is cool though!

Old Busted Hotness
Old Busted Hotness
11 days ago

Xfinity races at PIR are always great fun to watch, and this one was no exception. No spoilers, you gotta see it.

Speedway Sammy
Speedway Sammy
11 days ago

Portland doesn’t look very interesting on tv. It’s kind of like the IMS road course. Road courses need some elevation change. But if that’s the only place in town, enjoy it live.

Geekycop .
Geekycop .
11 days ago

I will never forget the track day I got to attend at PIR with the northwest cobra club 30 years ago with my dad. It was an absolute riot, there were cobras, tigers, and panteras all out there having a blast, and my dad got black flagged after pushing a tiger he was following in his friend’s 427 too hard so the tiger overcooked it into turn 10 and spun into the grass. The marshalls weren’t exactly pleased with the club’s antics that day but it was amazing all the same.

05LGT
05LGT
11 days ago

Had a seat over turn one for Indycar some time last century. The rain was miserable. It was fun cheering for one driver who missed the chicanes uniquely EVERY LAP! He eventually wrecked elsewhere and I left before it ended.

Slow Joe Crow
Slow Joe Crow
11 days ago

PIR is a great asset since it is unbuildable land that can never be luxury condos. Oddly I’ve mostly been there for bicycle races since OBRA runs several weeknight series plus two Cross Crusade events in the fall.

Brendon Gallant
Brendon Gallant
11 days ago
Reply to  Slow Joe Crow

hell yea PIR tuesday crew!

Slow Joe Crow
Slow Joe Crow
10 days ago

We were Monday people, my son and I did MTB while my wife road raced.

Rexracer
Rexracer
9 days ago
Reply to  Slow Joe Crow

The important thing, PIR is an asset for tons of different activities that just cant take place in other areas. These sorts of big races, local club racing (SCCA/NASA/ETC), education driving schools, motorcross, drag racing, autocross, cheap endurance racing, bike racing, Christmas lights, auto swap meet, and I am sure a ton of others I am not even aware of.

Yet with all this use and a handful of neighbors that moved next to a race track complain constantly about the noise and keep trying to shut it down.

Alan Christensen
Alan Christensen
11 days ago

I was at PIR for sort of a private “race.” It was back in the early 80s and I was supervising a photo shoot about emergency response vehicles. We needed a place where a Multnomah County Sheriff deputy could safely make repeated high speed passes at night with the lights flashing. I think the deputy had the most fun that night.

Last edited 11 days ago by Alan Christensen
Jeff Jordan
Jeff Jordan
11 days ago

I sure made a mistake at Turns 9-10 many years ago an a club racing event. The spin began at exit of Turn 9 and I ended up backwards, off course drivers left, at exit of 12. Not sure how that happened and didn’t hit anything. But I will never forget the long time interval from the beginning of the spin till the car came to a stop.

Rad Barchetta
Rad Barchetta
11 days ago

Is there anywhere to watch other than FS1?

05LGT
05LGT
11 days ago
Reply to  Rad Barchetta

Streaming on FUBU and the Fox Sports app according to a story in the Tennessean.

Strangek
Strangek
11 days ago

I’ll give it a watch. I’m a race fan that doesn’t follow stock cars much, mostly IndyCar, IMSA, and F1 for me. Just as you said though, if they’re coming to my local track I’ll check it out. I’ve watched the trucks and ARCA at the Milwaukee Mile and I’ve watched XFINITY at Road America. Always a good time!

Car Guy
Car Guy
11 days ago

Easy to love PIR, but hard to watch anything NASCAR. At least this event has turns both ways.

Jon Myers
Jon Myers
11 days ago

It is lucky this event is on Saturday since Portland is supposed to be hit with an “atmospheric river” where we will see up to an inch of rain starting Sunday.

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