Woody: Are Outhouse Races Next For Indy?
I remember a time when outhouse races were held to drum up interest in a NASCAR race. Might that be next for Indy?
More on that in a minute.
Who’d have thunk that the once-ballyhooed Brickyard 400 would require a supporting cast to draw a crowd? I covered the inaugural 1994 race and some estimated the crowd at 350,000. One Indy official was quoted as saying they could have sold a million tickets if seats were available.
Fast forward to this weekend’s race. Reports are that ticket sales are sagging worse than a 1930s Brickyard beauty queen.
One fan carelessly left a pair Brickyard 400 tickets lying on his car’s dashboard. When he returned, someone had broken into his car and left another pair of tickets.
OK, that may be an exaggeration, but what’s NOT exaggerated is the fact that Indy is being forced to add a couple of under-cards to its main event in an attempt to draw a crowd. The same-weekend Nationwide Series race is being moved from a popular nearby short track to the big arena, and a sports car race also has been added to the menu.
All of which got me to thinking:
What we’re seeing at Indy is a return to racing’s past, when promoters had to hustle to sell tickets. Back then the media generally ignored the sport and the track owner often scheduled extra entertainment and events to help draw a crowd.
They had some dillies at the old Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway. Track owner Bill Donoho
was a promotional genius, a carnival barker in a banker’s suit, and he kept the fans flocking.
One popular event every summer was the Joie Chitwood Thrill Show. Evel Knieval came to town one year and tried to jump over a building. Another daredevil jumped OFF a building. He plunged out of a 10th-story downtown building and landed on a stack of mattresses. It was unclear what was the relationship between leaping out a window to motorsports, but Donoho was there when he landed, selling tickets to the upcoming race.
Bill’s son Jimbo also had a flair for publicity. Once, amid a spat with country star Webb Pierce, Jimbo dumped a truck-load of live catfish into Webb’s swimming pool. Of course he called the TV stations first, to make sure the cameras were present and rolling.
The race fans loved daredevils, stunt drivers and other showmen. One popular attraction was Dynamite Bob, who blew himself up in a casket on the front stretch. The casket was filled with flour, which plumed up into a giant mushroom cloud when Dynamite Bob set off the fuse. The act’s link to racing was a bit fuzzy, as was Dynamite Bob after a performance.
There was a motorcyclist who jumped 10 school buses one night. Or attempted to. He made
it over nine and one-half buses and was taken away in the track ambulance.
Another motorcycle stunt rider jumped off a plywood ramp and through a Flaming Circle of Death. A large hoop was soaked in gasoline and set afire. The jumper made it through the flames the first time but – perhaps inspired by the cheering crowd – pushed his luck with an encore.
On his second launch off the ramp he mid-judged the Flaming Circle of Death. He collided with the burning hoop and went tumbling down the track, trailing smoke and sparks. As rescue workers extinguished the flames he managed a feeble wave to the fans, lying down for his standing ovation.
There were demolition derbies in which competitors driving clunkers battered each other beyond recognition and the last man standing won. It was the forerunner of restrictor-plate racing at Talladega.
One popular event back when Nashville hosted two annual Cup races was the summer Outhouse Race. Drivers would pull replicas of old-fashioned outdoor privies around the track while legendary country music emcee Ralph Emery called the action.
The media, of course, ate it up, generating tons of publicity for the upcoming Cup race. Maybe Indy should give it a try if its other ploys don’t work.
I can hear it now, reverberating from the PA system over Indy’s hallowed bricks:
“Gentlemen! Start your out-houses!”
– Larry Woody can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Comments