Is The Brickyard 400 Blasphemous?

This is a crusty old-goat alert! If you’re looking for a progressive essay on open-mindedness, this post is probably not for you. Consider yourself warned.

I am not a fan of the Brickyard 400, which will run for the nineteenth time this weekend. I never have been and probably never will be. There. I said it. Some will say that if this way of thinking doesn’t qualify me as a member of the Legions of the Miserable, it at least will earn me a permanent spot on the board of the old curmudgeons who lament the demise of the roadster at IMS. Personally, I don’t think I fall into either of those categories; but that doesn’t mean I have to embrace this “new” tradition, does it?

Put me in the camp with Tony Stewart who was upset with the first sight of stock cars going around the famed oval in a thinly veiled so-called tire test at IMS in 1992. His initial reaction was “it’s the home of the Indy 500 and that’s all it should be”. Of course, Stewart eventually migrated to NASCAR, winning three championships and two Brickyard 400’s himself – so one can excuse him from changing his tune. He now fully embraces the Sprint Cup race at IMS as well as the two new events that will take place for the first time at 16th & Georgetown – the Nationwide Series as well as the Grand Am sports car series that will run on the IMS road course on the same weekend.

Having no affiliation with NASCAR and being, at best, a casual fan of stock car racing – I have not changed my tune. It has now been twenty years since that first Goodyear tire test, and I’ve (probably) gotten over my initial reaction that having anything other than an IndyCar on this historic track was blasphemous – but I’d be lying if I said I’m comfortable with the sight of a stock car lumbering into Turn One at IMS. I’m not.

Keep in mind, I started going to races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway during a time when roadsters and Novi’s were still in the field. Names like Don Branson, Len Sutton and Johnny Boyd were on the starting grid of my first race at the Speedway. Al Unser and Gordon Johncock were rookies. I grew up in a time when racing fans were divided into two camps – Foyt or Andretti. You had to choose one, because you couldn’t be fans of both. Open-wheel racing was looked upon with awe, and the Indianapolis 500 was king.

Although there have been eighteen Brickyard 400’s; that only accounts for a third of my life. Since I attended my first race at IMS in 1965, there were thirty Indianapolis 500’s run before they ran the first Brickyard 400. Before 1994, there was only one event per year at that hallowed ground. The famed oval came to life once a year each May, then went dormant again until the following May. That was part of its allure, its charm and magic. That’s what made the Indianapolis 500 so special.

If you grew up going to the Indianapolis 500 each year as I did, only to reach the age of (almost) thirty-six and see another series running on the track you had grown to love – it was a tough pill to swallow, especially to someone like me who lives by the mantra “change is bad”.

When the Brickyard 400 was first run in August of 1994, my father was dying of pancreatic cancer. He was the one who introduced me to open-wheel racing and passed his love of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on to me and my brothers. That passion he instilled in me for that place is why I chose to get married there this past May. Although he was ill and not having a good day that August afternoon – he managed to come out and watch the first half of the race with me. As the rows of two came down to take the green flag, he uttered that it was a sacrilege that those cars were racing there. I still remember the look on his face as he said those words to this very day. He passed away less than four months later.

It would be incorrect, however, to think that my father’s words that day influenced my thinking. I already knew I didn’t like it. From the first pictures I saw of those nine cars on the front straightaway at the tire test in 1992, I felt as if something was wrong about it. It was sort of the uncomfortable feeling you get when you see your ex-girlfriend for the first time out with some other guy. You find it unsettling, yet you can’t look away.

Perhaps that explains why, after all these years of those feelings – I’ve never missed a telecast of the Brickyard 400. I’ve never attended one, but I’ve watched every race. I guess it’s just a chance to get a glimpse of my favorite venue, aside from the fact that I feel it’s being violated by these interlopers – most of whom know nothing about the history of the track they are driving on and probably even fewer care. To most of them, this is just another track – no different than Kansas Speedway or Homestead.

The fact that Jeff Gordon is already a four-time winner bothers me also. There were sixty-one Indianapolis 500’s before that event had its first four-time winner. For the Brickyard 400; it only took eleven runnings before Jeff Gordon won his fourth in 2004. At least he has Hoosier ties and is one of the few, along with Stewart, that actually understands the importance of this place.

When Formula One started racing at IMS in 2000, the presence of the Brickyard 400 made the F1 race easier to swallow. I actually attended the F1 qualifying there in 2002, mostly out of curiosity. The sights and sounds of the cars were very impressive, but the crowd was so different that it didn’t even feel as if I was at the same track I had gone to so many times before. And seeing the Formula One cars run “backwards” was something I never got used to that day.

When F1 left following the 2007 season, they were replaced by MotoGP. The logic was that motorcycles had run at the Speedway in 1909 and that this would be a perfect fit for the Centennial Era celebration. At that point, my attitude was “whatever”. The exclusivity seal that had been enjoyed by the Indianapolis 500 for eighty-three years had already been broken by NASCAR, IROC and then Formula One. At this point, I figured it was important for the Speedway to live up to its “Racing Capital of the World” moniker.

For 2012, the Nationwide series and Grand Am series will join the Sprint Cup cars at IMS in a Super Weekend at the Brickyard. Quite honestly, this was conceived to prop up sagging attendance for the Brickyard 400. I’ll admit, I briefly considered going, but didn’t really want to cough up the cash that it would take to go. Personally, I hope this weekend’s event is a success – not because I’m a fan of the Brickyard 400, but because I’m a fan of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Anytime IMS can turn a profit, that’s more money they can put into the facility to make the Indianapolis 500 an even better event.

So while I’ll continue my streak of having never attended a Brickyard 400, I’ll be watching this weekend and hoping that the TV shots will show less aluminum seating and more bodies in those seats. All the while, I’ll continue to hear the words from my dying father throughout the race.

George Phillips

23 Responses to “Is The Brickyard 400 Blasphemous?”

  1. Steve K Says:

    I have probably been to about a dozen different racing circuits throughout the country. I would have gone to Indy this weekend if it were not for the fact that IMS is not one of them. I am not seeing that track for the first time with anything other than IndyCars on the track. That being said my eyes will be glued to the TV this weekend. IMS should have more action on the track than the month of May. The Cup race is the second most prestigious event to win and I do not ever recall a this much hype for a non-Daytona 24 Grand Am race. It’s a big deal to win at Indy (much like Daytona or Monoco) in anything. That Jeff Gordon guy is pretty good. Gordon, Schumacher, and Stoner are among the best of the best in their class of motorsports. It says a lot about Indy that they have won the most in their respective classes. I only see positives when it comes to other racing series racing at IMS.

  2. SkipinSC Says:

    When the idea for NASCAR to run at IMS first came about, I believed it was the Hulman George family trying to get more “bang for their buck” from the facility that their patriarch had saved after WWII. I could understand the Cup cars running there because, as is always the case with the Speedway, it has always been the “best of the best.”

    Now, understanding that the Brickyard 400 has been a colossal flop in terms of attendance, the family has decided to run three series there in one weekend, in order to draw more attendance. And, it might suicceed, were it not for the sad state of the economy. As it is, I expect it will be somewhat underwhelming.

    I’ve never begrudged Jeff Gordon or Tony Stewart their success at the 400 because, as Indiana boys, they get it. The racing, however, is something else. If Indycar had a race at (insert track here) with as little passing as there has been lately in the Brickyard, your “Legions of the Miserable” would be on suicide watch.

    Aside from my being a fan of Danica Patrick and my desire to see her succeed, I would probably ignore the NNS race completely. Fortunately (or unfortunately) I have a medical procedure today that will pretty much have me confined to my couch for the weekend, so I’ll give it a look, as I have with the other Brickyard races.

  3. billytheskink Says:

    I agree that using the facility only once a year added to the sort of magic and mystique of the 500 and the Speedway itself. But like Southwest Conference football, the ship has sailed, it isn’t coming back, and what we have now is still pretty darn good. The Brickyard 400 has never been and will never be the 500, and even most NASCAR fans and drivers will now admit this and do so without shame.

    This weekend’s full card sounds great from the perspective of someone who just likes to watch racing, and if I was anywhere near Indy, I’d probably be there. The worst thing about this big weekend at the Speedway, I think, is that it cost IRP its Grand National and Truck races.

    George, this post reminds me of a pair of interviews I listened to last year surrounding the 100th anniversary of the 500. One was with Al Unser and the other with Bobby, both were asked what they thought of racing other than the 500 at the Speedway.

    Al thought it was sacrilege, and that the 500 should be the only thing run at the track. Bobby, on the other hand, thought that the Speedway should host as many races and tests as possible.
    I guess these polar opposite opinions go right along with the polar opposite personalities of the brothers.

  4. I thought that after the test that I was going to enjoy seeing the Indianapolis Motor Speedway once more each year with some activity going on. I did like it and still do. However, NASCAR and F1 have put on some ridiculous performances at IMS. Goodyear’s tire fiasco, Michelin calling a strike and Schumacher letting Rubens win in 2002 were events that have never happened before with the 500 and I doubt that they ever will (particularly purposely giving up a win).
    Bottom line, though. I will be watching just to see IMS and I will be more interested in the Nationwide race than the Cup race. Also, and like Steve K., if I were living close I would be there because of my love for all things IMS.

  5. I have no issues with it.

  6. One of the NASCAR “experts” said it best last night – IMS was not made for stock cars. Not to mention I’m about sick of NASCAR trying to make nearly every race (including this one) the one drivers “want to win.”

    I don’t expect the Cup and Nationwide races to be all that exciting. They rarely are. I’ll probably watch Cup but only because I won’t have a choice. But Grand-Am should be pretty good today. They have put on great racing all year.

  7. Savage Henry Says:

    At first, I thought running stock cars at Indy was sacrilege, but I’m ok with it now. Even though I’m not a NASCAR fan, I always seem to watch because it’s Indy. The races are usually crappy – those 3400 lb. sleds don’t do too well there so there’s not much passing. I think slow cars running in procession is exactly the contrast we want between NASCAR and Indycar, especially after the awesome race we had in the Indy 500 this year.

    I’ve always felt that the NASCAR people have always shown the proper respect for the track and the history there. The fact that many drivers say that winning the Brickyard is of equal prestige as winning at Daytona says a lot. I’m sure that NASCAR brass hates to hear that.

    At the end of the day, if the race puts extra coin in IMS’s bank account, I’m for it. That money can be used to continuously improve the facility and hopefully be re-invested to the benefit of the Indy 500 and IndyCar. I don’t think that the Brickyard 400 takes anything away from the prestige of IMS or the Indy 500. So if it’s a cash cow that can be milked every year, I say go for it. I hope that this weekend is a success. I have my DVR set to record the Grand Am race today at 3:30.

  8. I’m fine with the Brickyard race. (Except the entire title of it, which is “Crown Royal Presents The Ned Flanders Nascar Sprint Cup Showdown at The Brickyard and a Few Other Assorted Races in Association With Kroger and Goody’s Headache Powders and We Pray To God Junior Wins This Goddang Thing Weekend Super Spectacular.”)

    I think the Brickyard has made it’s own history and tradition and deserves it’s “second biggest” reputation. But adding the Nationwide race is a mistake. It was just fine where it was, and adding a minor league race really waters down the prestige of winning at Indy.

    I’m not impressed with the bike race either, and I wouldn’t mind if it went the way of F1, but the Grand Am race sorta has me curious.

  9. Ron Ford Says:

    I try not to worry too much about things I can’t control so I simply hope that the events prove to be profitable for the IMS. Can anyone confirm that Danica Patrick will be there?

  10. Here at IMS right now for the sports car races, where a storm rolled in and caused a red flag for flooding on the main straight and the pits. A great day otherwise, including a 70-car field in the for the first of two races.

    But the gallery is perhaps 15,000 today, not a whole lot more are expected for Saturday’s Indiana 250, and whispers are no more than 80,000 – that means about 170,000 empty seats – for the 19th Brickyard 400.

    George, we miss you here!

    • I’d expect more than 15,000 just on the Danicacuriousity alone.

      And I’d bet they top 80,000 Sunday, but we’ll see.

  11. […] the original: Is The Brickyard 400 Blasphemous? « Oilpressure Tags: formula, ims, indianapolis, nascar, race, racing, series, speedway, track, weekend, […]

  12. For me Indianapolis has always been about the cars and the drivers. I welcome the Rolex series. It’t good to see world class drivers return to the speedway post F1, Indycar careers. I would really like to see the Rolex race expanded to a 12 or 24 hour venue.

    As for the Nascar guys….

    This is gonna tick off Nascar fans but I dont care (as I snicker).
    Nscar drivers don’t fit in here. They have their own tradition at Daytona, it should stay there.

  13. Steve K Says:

    “The fact that Jeff Gordon is already a four-time winner bothers me also. There were sixty-one Indianapolis 500’s before that event had its first four-time winner. For the Brickyard 400; it only took eleven runnings before Jeff Gordon won his fourth in 2004.”

    Just a thought on this: Drivers aren’t dying left and right like they used to, and the durability of the cars is much greater than it ever has been. It only makes sense that there are more multiple winners as the best drivers tend to be on the best teams who tend to have the best cars. I think IndyCar is playing to this as well as we have two active three-time winner and a recent two-time winner who sadly isn’t with us anymore.

    That paragraph was bothering me. I had to post again.

  14. james t suel Says:

    I do not like the stockers at the speedway.I hated it the first time,but i wish it sucsses only because i love IMS. 2012 WAS MY 52 ND 500 SO I KNOW HOW YOU FEEL GEORGE. 1960- 2012!!!!

  15. Bent Wickerbill Says:

    Very happy to hear Rolex will be there, actually caught the last hour of same last eve… Do not like NASCAR at IMS and never have, but I do understand the fiscal necessity for this sort of thing, although it does not sound like there will be a bust out crowd…. Shocker…!!!

  16. I go to the Brickyard 400 to support IMS but it’s the single most boring thing I’ll do all year that I actually pay money for, and that includes theater tickets that my wife gets.

    I’m ready for the BY400 to go away, along with the MotoGP and anything else on the road course (bulldoze it and give me my infield parking back!), but I’m afraid that they are here to stay in one form or another. Taking the minor league race from Clermont was unforgivable. Putting up lights and having a night race would be an abomination and badly damage the relationship the track has with the city and the town of Speedway. Just a couple of thoughts.

  17. I’m a little late to this, and since I only started watching the 500 in the last 6 or 7 years I don’t have the years of watching the traditions behind me.

    That said, my opinion based on what I’ve seen and read of IMS over time is that it should feature the fastest or most technologically advanced racing there is. On that basis I see no reason why NASCAR or Grand-Am should be there as they don’t represent either – Cup may be the most successful but that’s not the same thing.

    In my view IMS should host these:

    Indy 500 as the only oval race as the fastest racing in the world (Lights race same day as an appetiser);
    F1 as the fastest racing on road courses;
    MotoGP as the fastest and most advanced motorbikes around;
    FIA World Endurance (WEC) as the series with the most technology, or at least that is so among the top class Audi and Toyota machines. With all due to respect to the ALMS.. they’re not quite there any more.

    But I’d also bulldoze the infield circuit and start again because that track is awful. If MotoGP can’t pass there you know you have a bad track. Oh and you are right about the F1 cars going the wrong way, even back in 2000 as a die-hard F1 fan and newbie IndyCar/CART fan that made no sense to me at all. Cars are supposed to go in one direction at IMS and that is anti-clockwise.

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