Race Weekend Central

Upon Further Review: The Freedom 100 Needs to Come Back

When a driver desires to race the Indianapolis 500 for the first time, those drivers go through a rookie test lasting 40 laps, or 100 miles around Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS).

Every driver, no matter their experience level, must go through this process to build up mileage at IMS before being turned loose in practice. Fernando Alonso, Nigel Mansell, and even Kyle Larson all had to complete this initiation.

For Mansell and Alonso, this was before their first oval race, but they had lots of experience in high horsepower cars. For Larson, he raced on dirt and asphalt short tracks and has raced in NASCAR for over a decade.

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However, for some racers, the Indianapolis 500 is not only their first oval race, but one of their first races in high horsepower cars. For Nolan Siegel, this was the case, as he raced in one IndyCar Series points paying race (Streets of Long Beach) before trying the Indianapolis 500.

The 19-year-old has been a veteran of the American ladder system. He’s raced at World Wide Technology Raceway, Iowa Speedway and Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park before attempting to qualify for the 2024 Indianapolis 500. That attempt ended with the No. 18 Honda against the Turn 2 wall.

If Siegel were several years older and tried the “500” back in 2019, he would’ve had a bit more superspeedway experience thanks to a race long beloved by spectators and drivers alike: the Freedom 100.

Before 2020, the Freedom 100 was an Indy Lights (now Indy NXT by Firestone) race held during the month of May. After two years with small crowds due to running the race during the second weekend of qualifying, IMS officials moved the race to Carb Day in 2005, which proved to be an instant hit with the spectators.

The crowds grew to appreciate the race which became a staple of the final day of practice before the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. It also gave drivers a chance to sample superspeedway racing before moving up into the IndyCar Series.

That chance is gone. Instead of having drivers gain superspeedway experience before going to Indianapolis, young drivers will go fast on an oval no larger than 1.33 miles when they visit Nashville Superspeedway to conclude the 2024 season.

The Freedom 100 allowed drivers the chance to get comfortable with speeds close to what is in the Indianapolis 500. It gave drivers a chance to get laps around the same track that they want to eventually compete on later during Memorial Day weekend.

The lack of a race has hindered many drivers in IndyCar competition. Devlin DeFrancesco had no superspeedway experience before his first larger oval race at Texas Motor Speedway. That inexperience might have contributed to his contact with multiple cars at Texas in 2022.

Siegel would have benefitted from having a Freedom 100 to help him get some more miles around Indianapolis before trying to qualify for Dale Coyne Racing. Every rookie will only benefit from more seat time around IMS.

There have been reasons given as to why the race went away. Some claim that the oval should only have one race per year, and that’s why the Freedom 100 went away. That reason goes out the window when we look at the schedule and see that NASCAR is back on the oval with the 2024 Brickyard 400 coming back.

Others have said that there are worries that the Freedom 100 would distract from Indianapolis 500 preparation. That’s absolutely untrue. In 2019, Freedom 100 practice was on Tuesday and Wednesday of Indy 500 race week while IndyCar drivers did their national media tours. Qualifying took place on Thursday ahead of the race on Friday.

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In 2024, the only activity taking place at the track on Tuesday and Wednesday was pit stop practice for two hours each day and there was no track activity at all scheduled on Thursday.

Distraction? Give me a break.

Then there’s the safety angle. Yes, there have been a couple of large accidents at the Freedom 100. Jorge Goncalvez, Chase Austin and David Malukas have all had large accidents in the Freedom 100, but all drivers raced again after their impacts.

And Malukas’ accident was the only one in the current generation car, whose first design parameter was that it must survive a 200 mph impact at IMS. Adding to the safety discussion, the IL-15s have since been retro-fitted with the halo in case of debris, making the cars even safer.

And not only that, but Colton Herta literally flipped his car on Carb Day a couple of years ago. Are there currently calls for Carb Day practice to be banned?

I didn’t think so.

NASCAR currently has several support races at Daytona International Speedway ahead of the Daytona 500. Between the ARCA Menards Series, NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series and NASCAR Xfinity Series, there are three opportunities for drivers learning their way up the ladder to get experience at the most important track on the calendar before moving up to the big show.

There have been large accidents year after year after year in each of these races, many years with cars getting airborne. There are no calls for those races to be banned, in fact NASCAR will often times require a driver to compete in the ARCA race before approving them to compete in any of the three main NASCAR national touring series.

Why does Indianapolis get treated with this approach of it being too dangerous for Indy NXT while Daytona gets multiple races with all sorts of TV time ahead of The Great American Race?

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Having the Freedom 100 back gives the Carb Day spectators more value for their tickets, the younger drivers more TV time on IndyCar’s grandest stage and, if the finish is just right, a lot of exposure for the series on SportsCenter if there’s another four-wide finish.

For several years, the Indy NXT fields were sparsely populated with seven or eight cars at most races. In 2024, 21 cars have started every race so far. There is a full field at every race, so the race will be more appealing on TV.

Every reason for not hosting the Freedom 100 is simply an excuse.

Not having the Freedom 100 is a mistake. IMS and IndyCar, please fix that so that your ladder series drivers looking to compete in IndyCar can get large oval experience before going to the Indianapolis 500.

Otherwise, their inexperience can cause an accident, and then they’ll be a part of the group of drivers that have hit the wall at Indianapolis.

At least it’s a SAFER Barrier this time around.

About the author

Christopherdeharde

Christopher DeHarde has covered IndyCar racing and the Road to Indy for various outlets since 2014. In addition to open wheel racing, DeHarde has also covered IMSA and various short track racing events around Indiana. Originally from New Orleans, DeHarde moved to the Indianapolis area in 2017 to further pursue a career as a motorsports writer.

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Drew

I think it’s time for the freedom 100 to make a triumphant comeback for next year’s Memorial Day weekend for the Indy nxt.

Steve

Given how inexperience was shown quite a bit in the early stages of the 500 this year, probably not a bad idea to bring the 100 back. All those crashes by rookies at the beginning of the race was not a good look for Indycar.

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