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Woody: Indy’s Aura Has Faded For NASCAR

Larry Woody | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, May 25 2011

Clint Bowyer motors through Gasoline Alley and into the garages at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. While the 500 shines on, the 400 has faded at Indy. (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images)

Larry Woody | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

When I covered the inaugural Brickyard 400 in 1994 the place was packed to the seams. Scalpers lined the streets. Newspapers in several states were crammed with ads for tickets, invariably as part of some sort of gold-plated travel package.

One estimate put the crowd at 350,000 and I figure that was pretty close. A race official was quoted as saying they could have sold a million tickets if space permitted.

But that early sizzle has fizzled.

A recent report said ticket sales for the July 31 race are sagging worse than an aging beauty queen. Last year’s attendance was estimated at 140,000 and there are concerns that this year’s turnout will be even more anemic.

While the Indy 500 remains arguably the world’s most famous race and there has been a lot of buzz surrounding this month’s 100th edition, Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s impact on NASCAR is minimal. Some pundits seem puzzled. What happened to Indy’s awesome aura? 
I’ll tell you what happened: generally the racing has been rotten. The Brickyard is boring. IMS is a big, flat track that is not conducive to stock car racing.

Driving through the tunnel for the first time and seeing the vast golf-course infield and seemingly miles of bleachers sends a shiver up the spine. And there IS an aura about the place. It is racing’s

Jeff Gordon crosses the finish line to win the Brickyard 400 in front of packed grandstands in 2004. (Photo courtesy of NASCAR)

Lambeau, Augusta and Wrigley, all rolled into one.

Going to Indy the first time is a memorable experience for any racer or race fan. But after the mystic tingle wears off, then what? How many times do you care to stare at Mt. Rushmore?

If you want to see an interesting racing museum, go to Indy. If you want to see an interesting stock car race, better choose another track.

A couple of things have compounded the track’s problem of lackluster NASCAR racing. The tire fiasco of 2008 was crippling; fans still can’t understand how NASCAR, Indy and Goodyear sat back and allowed such an embarrassment to occur in what they consider one of their premier events.

If already disillusioned fans were looking for an excuse to hit the bricks, NASCAR and Goodyear gave it to them.

The problem will be exacerbated this year when Kentucky Speedway runs its inaugural Sprint Cup race. For over a decade the track has been a model of success with its truck and Nationwide races and I suspect it will do even better with its new Cup event. The Brickyard 400 is no longer the only game in that part of town.

Harking back to the big Brickyard buildup of ’94, some long-time NASCAR fans fretted that the magic of Indy would overshadow the Daytona 500, that the legendary race would be relegated to second-class status. Based on that first Indy turnout, it seemed possible.

But after a few more races it was evident that the Brickyard 400 was destined to become Just Another Race – and not even a particularly good one at that. The dazzle dimmed with each succeeding visit.

Now, in terms of its stock car impact, it’s just a big track with a big reputation and not much else. If the joint had lights it would be time to turn them out. For NASCAR, the party’s over.

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

Larry Woody | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, May 25 2011
2 Comments

2 Comments »

  • Charles says:

    Still better than 500 miles at Pocono. Twice.

  • Louie says:

    It’s not an exciting race for sure, but 140,000 people is still a big race crowd. But 100,000 empty seats look awful on TV.

    The solution was shown last week at Charlotte. Just blind the TV cameras to dark empty seats with giant TV screens.