RICHMOND, Va. -- The International Race of Champions has secured series-saving sponsorship from Crown Royal and will race on three new tracks this year.
During a conference call Thursday, IROC President Jay Signore said the series came "pretty close" to folding this year before Crown Royal, a whiskey producer, agreed to a three-year contract as sponsor.
"We just figured a way to get it done," Signore said, noting that discussions had been going on with Crown Royal for about three years. "The desire on both parts was overwhelming, so that always works."
The IROC schedule will again begin at Daytona two days before the Daytona 500 kicks off the NASCAR Nextel Cup schedule, then will race at Texas, Richmond and Atlanta. Last season, IROC's last with sponsorship from True Value, it raced at Talladega, Indianapolis and Chicago.
The series also will boost its total prize money to $1.9 million for the four-race series, with the winner getting a check for $1 million.
Kurt Busch, last year's champion, received $250,000, and is committed to return this year, along with reigning Nextel Cup champion Matt Kenseth.
The other 10 drivers in the series have not been determined.
IROC, started in 1974, pits 12 top drivers from NASCAR series and open-wheel racing in identically prepared cars. Races last 100 miles without qualifying, pit stops or drivers being allowed to alter their cars.
Past championship have included Indy car greats Al and Bobby Unser, A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti and NASCAR stars Davey and Bobby Allison, Dale Earnhardt, Mark Martin, Rusty Wallace, Ricky Rudd and Kevin Harvick.
The series' visit to Richmond on Sept. 9 will mark its first on a track shorter than one mile, and will complete a quadruple-header weekend also featuring NASCAR's top three series in a span of three days.
"It'll be a fantastic venue," Busch said of Richmond International Raceway, a three-quarter-mile, D-shaped oval and host to five NASCAR and one Indy Racing League events each season, including two Nextel Cup races.
"To be under the lights, the excitement that that race draws, and the two-wide racing you see there all the time ... There will be some fiberglass that might come off the cars that you don't normally see at the speedways we run on," he said.
The IROC race will be run on the same night as a Craftsman Truck Series event, which will be followed by a Busch Grand National event the following night and the Nextel Cup feature race on Saturday night.
"A lot of elements have come into place to where this makes a lot of sense for IROC," RIR president Doug Fritz said, noting the track's popularity with drivers from both NASCAR and various open-wheel series.
"We're excited about the show they're going to put on."
The races at Daytona and Texas will also be run at night, Signore said, while the date for the race at Atlanta Motor Speedway is not set.