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Pedley: The Brickyard Has Become A Classic

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Wednesday, July 22 2009
Just another race? Get serious. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Just another race? Get serious. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

There is a hot topic making the rounds this week which should not be a topic at all, and that is the need to keep the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard on the Sprint Cup schedule.

Yep, there seems to be a sentiment out there that the 400, which will be run for the 16th time this weekend, has become expendable and ought to be expended. No, seriously. Somebody said that on national television the other night and not in an attempt to illicit laughter.

Then, during a teleconference on Tuesday, Jeff Gordon was asked – presumably with a straight face – if the Brickyard had become dispensable. Not a trick question, either.

Suddenly, perhaps as a result of its own inertia, a out of a search for shock value or desire to be viewed as tough on crime, lots of wags are picking up the subject and embarrassing themselves by being serious about it.

The thing is, it is a topic that is hot because of last year’s Goodyear tire travesty.

It should be a non-topic because, well, common sense might make for a good starting point.

The race is the second most identifiable on the schedule. The pecking order is Daytona No. 1, the Brickyard No. 2.

After that, No. 3, is what? Bristol’s night race? Maybe?

And No. 4? That would be Las Pocohampshiredovertexaforniaville.

Easy arguments can be made that absolutely all of the places and races on the NASCAR schedule can justify their existence (except maybe two races Pocono). They bring racing to race fans, they give sponsors some pop or their dough, they are tracks which have special places in the sport and/or they feature wonderful racing.

But what only two of them are, are events.

Only the 500 and the Brickyard stand out above the rest. Only they will attract crossover interest. Only they will turn small stories into big ones.

Witness the fact that many other tracks have produced tire fiascos over the years but last year’s at the Brickyard made for the biggest news because it came at the big event.

There are things missing in NASCAR right now. Things which are factoring into the sport’s plateauing of interest.

One of those is a the absence of a consensus list of races which are considered majors. There is no triple crown, no grand slam, no crown jewels. There is not even a slam-bang, big finish to the season. It just kind of slinks off into the swamps of South Florida every November.

NASCAR, of course, used to have a de facto triple crown. It was the Daytona 500, the Southern 500 and the World 600 in Charlotte.

In the days, weeks, leading up to them, the anticipation grew. On race weekend, attention grew. On race day, a special kind of emotion spilled out on to the track and, especially, into Victory Lane.

Then, the triple crown of NASCAR got tampered out of existence.

The Southern at Darlington had its name altered so many times nobody knew what to call it, and then the date change off of Labor Day put the final pillow over its face.

The World 600 on Memorial Day weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway kind of went through some of the same name bastardizing over the years and became less identifiable – and less important – in the process.

Then the Brickyard came along. Huge deal. So big, it put a smile on Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s face.

Indy, kissing the bricks, 16th and Georgetown, the balloons. The significance on the sport was immeasurable. It brought NASCAR into the Midwest in a big way, it became the king-maker, it broke up the summer racing doldrums, it stood as one of a few flowers on a schedule which grew in size but not importance.

And the moments it has produced. Stewart and Gordon and Earnhardt standing where Foyt and Clark and Schumacher had stood. All back-lit by those marvelous old front-stretch grandstands and the pagoda.

Any attempt – official or otherwise – to install a triple crown or grand slam in NASCAR must include the Brickyard. Period. Right there behind Daytona.

Last week and into this week, respectable people start talking about the Brickyard as thought it were a burden on NASCAR.

Phases like “no longer needed” and “has become irrelevant” were being added to descriptions of the race.

They cite declining attendance.

Um, hey, name an event which hasn’t had that. And by the way, this weekend’s crowd could be in the neighborhood of 200,000.

Not sure what those folks would replace it with. Kentucky? Milwaukee? Rockingham? Third race at Pocono?

Does NASCAR need the Brickyard? Define need.

A schedule without the Brickyard is a lesser schedule. A much lesser schedule.

NASCAR needs to be improving its schedule, not downgrading it. Some argue that at 16 years old, it has become a tired event. I say that at 16, the Brickyard has become a classic.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Wednesday, July 22 2009
3 Comments

3 Comments »

  • Jim R. says:

    Sorry I can’t share your enthusiasm on this subject. I have been to all 15 of the Brickyard races, so I have some perspective. The first year NASCAR raced there was a big deal because it had never been done before. This speedway is historic. It was made that way by legions of open wheel racers. My first visit was 30 some years ago when I got to drive by it on Georgetown. My mind relived all the races I had listened to on radio or seen on TV as I drove by. In 1994, I got to see it from the inside and the feeling I had was that I was a visitor to a shrine. We (the NASCAR folks) really didn’t belong there. What we were about to do was the equivalent of holding a rap concert at Royal Albert Hall. It was then and is now all about the dollars. The city welcomes the financial windfall but otherwise could care less if it’s IRL, NASCAR or F1. People at the track means money in the till. Truth be told, if the Cup event were run at IRP (sorry O’Reilly, it will always be IRP to me), a much better race would be run. But they can’t sell 200,000 tickets there. The economy is not the only reason this weekend will be down again. It’s also about disrespecting the shrine.

  • jim says:

    Very good piece on the Brickyard 400!

    Nascar can’t afford not to have the Brickyard on the schedule.

    What about the Rolex series on the Saturday before the 400?

    Your thoughts….

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