Woody: The Brickyard Has Lost Its Dazzle
Larry Woody | Senior Writer
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 firstname.lastname@example.org Comments