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Woody: The Brickyard Has Lost Its Dazzle

Larry Woody | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, July 28 2010

The green flag drops for a restart at the Brickyard on Sunday. Should NASCAR continue at Indy or hit the bricks?(Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Larry Woody | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

I remember the buzz of excitement and anticipation that surrounded NASCAR’s first race at Indy in 1994. It was racing’s equivalent to the moon landing. Stock car drivers were going where none had gone before.

By the time NASCAR headed back for last Sunday’s 17th trip, the buzz had subsided to a dull murmur. If that. Judging from my unofficial fan survey (talking to my racing buddy Road Hog) the Brickyard 400 has become Just Another Race.

When I covered the first race in ’94, tickets were hotter than a $20 diamond and in short supply – even with a reported track capacity of 250,000. There were stories about frantic fans mortgaging their doublewides to attend the race.

Last Sunday fans under 12 got in free with a paid adult, yet even with the freebies there was a sea of empties in the grandstands. Attendance was estimated at 140,000.

The place hasn’t lost any of its aura – Indy is still racing’s Augusta – but fans aren’t going to keep paying for aura. They got their fill of aura 17 years ago. Now they want some exciting racing, and it’s been in short supply in most of the Bore-Yard 400s.

Dull racing and a slack economy are a bad combination at the turnstiles.

The 2.5-mile Indy track is flat and ill-suited for traditional stock car racing. And the 2008 tire debacle – the infamous Tip-Toe Race – didn’t help matters. A lot of fed-up fans tuned out and never tuned back in.

Indy is discovering what NASCAR already knew: you can’t fool the fans. Not for long. Certainly not for 17 years. They know bad racing when they see it, and all the dazzling advertising and glitzy sideshows can’t disguise it.

Let’s face it: if there had been 17 years of the kind of racing we’ve seen at Indy at, say, Podunk Speedway, the race wouldn’t be drawing flies. About all Indy’s got going for it is its famous name.

Indy is Pocono with a press agent.

It’s amusing now to look back at some of the concerns we heard from both NASCAR fans and Indy fans going into the inaugural ’94 race. Traditional NASCAR fans feared the Indy mystique would diminish the dazzle of the Daytona, while Indy die-hards fretted that the bruising stockers would relegate the mighty Indy 500 to second-class status.

Turned out, neither happened. Daytona is still the No. 1 NASCAR race and the Indy 500 is the No. 1 open-wheel event. They’re Betty and Veronica.

In fairness, the Brickyard 400 is not alone in its droopy attendance and TV ratings. Other tracks are struggling with similar problems and for similar reasons: bad economy and so-so racing. When/if both pick up, so will attendance.

But the Brickyard 400 has yet to live up to the over-hyped expectations of ’94 and interest continues to wane year after year.

My 10 favorite tracks for stock car racing are, in order; Bristol, Talladega, Daytona, Darlington, Atlanta, Richmond, Charlotte, Martinsville, and Texas, with several ties for 10th. Indy’s not among the ties, but it does come in ahead of the two road courses.

Granted, the track is steeped in legend and lore, and that fame is its salvation. With the type of NASCAR racing it has offered, it wouldn’t survive as Podunk Speedway.

– Larry Woody can be reached at lwoody@racintoday.com

Larry Woody | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, July 28 2010
7 Comments

7 Comments »

  • Tim says:

    Though I can agree with the article, I thought the last race at the Brickyard was fairly decent compared to past races. First fifteen laps was like something out of a bad racing dream but over all I thought it was a good show.

  • Steve says:

    I agree with this article except for one thing you mentioned. You said when the bad economy and so so racing improve, things will be much better. I disagree. The economy doesn’t have as much to do with it as the poor racing. Why are the tv numbers down? The races aren’t entertaining to watch, that’s why.

    And Indy has had poor racing since the first race there. It has always been single file parades all day. This sunday was no exception. That will not improve and neither will the racing on cookie cutter tracks improve regardless of what car they put out there. Fix the product on the track and people will watch, whether its Indy or Podunk Speedway.

  • Gordon says:

    It’s about time somebody told the truth about NASCAR and Indy.I was there in 95 when Earnhardt won. One caution flag !! It was the most boring thing I’ve ever witnessed !! NASCAR is alienating there true fans.I’m sorry this isn’t what I want to watch. I fell asleep!!If this keeps up NASCAR will turn into the WWF and nothing but a side show!! HAVE AT IT BOYS !!!!!

  • gordon says:

    The car of Tomorrow ruined the brickyard. First the introduction caused the tire debacle which caused many local fans to never return. Second, watching a bus race would be more exciting than the current oversized cars. They can’t pass and they don’t have a future at the brickyard at least. Add some lights and you might bring back some excitement for awhile, but the car is the problem. The older model wasn’t great but it worked. This improvement is a disaster for the Brickyard at least.

  • Jeff says:

    Completely disagree. I wish more people would go back and watch some of these Brickyard 400 races—the finishes are very good. A few examples—1994 race–great battles with Wallace, Irvan and Gordon. 1995–Excellent 3-way battle for win. Both of Stewart’s victories in 05 and 07 came down to a battle with a few laps to go.

    Sure the Daytona 500 will have close racing–they have plates on them!!! You bet, The Brickyard 400 would’ve surprassed the 500 if NASCAR had let it—if the drivers would honest and didn’t fear a fine, most would say they would rather win at Indy than Daytona anytime.

    Keep Indy around!!!!

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  • Joe says:

    I rejected from the start and still do Indy’s instant place among the most important races. Sunday it was referred to as NASACR’s second biggest race. While winning there is a big deal, it’s third at best, and that’s being generous.

    Winning the Southern 500 at Darlington (in whatever incarnation) is still bigger, in my opinion. The Daytona 500 is obviously No. 1. I’d also rank the May race at Charlotte, the August race at Bristol and winning at Talladega more of a “Major” than Indy.

    Of course I think Rockingham, North Wikesboro and Nashville are far better than half the tracks today.