The Grand-Am Road Racing Series' five-year run at New Jersey Motorsports Park is over.
The first major series ever to race at the Millville race track announced its 2013 schedule Friday, and NJMP was not among the 12 races on it.
"We're disappointed with the decision but understand what they need to do to meet their business goals," NJMP general manager Brad Scott said by phone Friday.
Since its debut at the brand-new facility in 2008, Grand-Am had been the second-biggest draw annually at NJMP behind the AMA Pro Road Racing motorcycle series. The park does not release attendance figures, but thousands attended the Grand-Am races each year.
Grand-Am's 2013 schedule includes three new sites: Austin, Texas; Braselton, Ga.; and Kansas City, Kan.
Herb Branham, Grand-Am's managing director of communications, praised everyone from the fans to the owners of NJMP in a phone interview Friday. But he said there were more than 20 tracks vying for spots on the schedule.
"It just couldn't be worked out for 2013," Branham said. "That doesn't rule out a possible return there down the road."
The news was not entirely surprising. Grand-Am announced a merger with the American Le Mans Series earlier this month that will consolidate both their schedules in 2014, and Scott expressed doubt at the time that Grand-Am would even be back in 2013.
"We enjoyed a great five-year run with Grand-Am and we have been in active conversations with them, and during the conversations we knew that they were looking at at least two additional tracks," Scott said Friday. "We knew they were cutting the schedule down from 14 events to 12 events and they have a tendency to change venues every once in a while."
Grand-Am driver Jim Lowe, who works as a neurosurgeon in Linwood and is a member of NJMP's Drivers Club, said he heard about Millville's exclusion from the schedule late Thursday night.
"It's pretty disappointing. For my home track point of view, I thought it was a great event," Lowe said in a phone interview Friday. "I thought it was a good race. I thought the drivers were enjoying the track more each time."
Lowe said he is excited to drive at the Austin track, which was built for next year's Formula One race. But he called it "bitter irony."
"From a driver's perspective, there's an opportunity to drive some new places that we haven't been at," Lowe said, "but it's real disappointing that Millville is one of the ones that they decided to leave out."
Lowe said he hasn't given up hope of Grand-Am returning to Millville in the future, but he wasn't optimistic about it happening any time soon due to the merger and consolidation of schedules.
"In the short run," Lowe said, "the newer tracks, the tracks that don't have as much history and tradition as Laguna Seca and Watkins Glen, the tracks like Millville are going to get banged up."
Scott said he already is in discussions to bring back Grand-Am in 2014, but he's also working on other series for NJMP's 2013 schedule, which will come out in early November. Among the possibilities are AMA Pro Motocross, a drifting series or another sports car series such as the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters, a popular European series that will race in the U.S. next year.
"We want to make it our goal to create just a great schedule for our fans," Scott said.
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