March 24, 2012

The IndyCar season opens Sunday, and series CEO Randy Bernard is already working on the 2013 schedule with an eye on a stop in Houston.

Bernard met Saturday with officials from Houston about running on a temporary street course there next season. He said a contract was not signed.

"We are very much engaged in the 2013 schedule right now, and some of our top objectives and priorities right now is continuing to showcase our sport in major markets," Bernard said. "Houston, Texas, fits pretty well. It's one of the top five cities in the United States. We had a meeting this morning and made significant progress, but there's still much to be knocked out prior to any announcement."

Roger Penske, one of the most powerful team owner in IndyCar, said earlier Saturday he supports a stop in Houston and wants the series to focus on North American markets. IndyCar has 14 races scheduled this year across the U.S. and Canada, and will make stops in Brazil and China.

"To me, I haven't seen anybody call us up, wants to write a big check because we're going to China," Penske said. "When someone asks how the series can be better, I think it's date equity with races in the United States."

A report earlier this week said Penske would be present at a Wednesday announcement in Houston to announce a 2013 IndyCar race, but the team owner acted as if that was news to him. He did, however, say Houston has been in discussion.

"I like Houston because they can run at Reliant Park and they've got all the facilities there," he said. "It's the location that's got capital, the proper sponsor. I've gone into the market where the promoter is upside down."

Bernard said adding Houston to the schedule would not preclude IndyCar from returning to Texas Motor Speedway in Ft. Worth. Texas is scheduled to host IndyCar on June 9 for a 16th consecutive season.

"They are two different demographics," Bernard said. "I believe in a competition clause in a contract that 120 miles and a 90-day clause on each side, so we can protect the market. But that's the only provision that we would have."

He also said his focus is on adding new American venues to the IndyCar schedule. He's had meetings with Phoenix International Raceway about returning there. PIR hosted IndyCar races from 1996 through 2005, and USAC and CART ran at the track from 1964 to 1995.

There's also been rumblings that Bernard has been in contact with Pocono officials about a return to that track, and possibly adding a race through the streets of Chicago.

"I definitely think there should be an international strategy in key markets that makes complete sense for our sponsors and our partners," Bernard said. "But we are an American sanctioning body of open-wheel racing, and our first and foremost concern must be American tracks and cities.

"The current tracks that we are looking at for 2013, the emphasis is 90 percent on new events on the U.S."

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