Why We Want The Brickyard 400 To Succeed

No one should be surprised to hear me say that I am a racing fan. While IndyCar is my passion, I am still a fan of other forms of motorsport – including NASCAR. I’m no die-hard, but I’ll still watch the occasional NASCAR race. I have been to three NASCAR races in my life – two in Charlotte and one at Darlington. Surprisingly, I’ve never been to the Brickyard 400 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It’s not that I consider the race a sacrilege that invades the hallowed ground on an annual basis, as some people do. It’s just that I never felt an overwhelming urge to go.

This weekend will mark the twenty-third time that NASCAR’s top series has run at 16th and Georgetown. It seems like only yesterday that I sat with my ailing father in his den in early August of 1994 to watch the Inaugural Brickyard 400. We satisfied our curiosity to see what the slower, cumbersome stock cars would look like on the familiar 2.5 mile oval that was the sight of so many good times for my family three decades earlier. He would pass away less than four months later.

Six Indianapolis 500 veterans tried to make that race. AJ Foyt came out of retirement to run it. He qualified fortieth and finished thirtieth, carrying a very unfamiliar No.50. Danny Sullivan and John Andretti both qualified with similar finishing results. Davy Jones, Stan Fox and Gary Bettenhausen all failed to qualify.

Although the scoring pylon, the Master Control Tower and the track layout looked familiar; the event had a very odd feeling to it – at least on television. The cars looked gigantic on the narrow straightaway and it seemed strange seeing them start the race two-abreast. Although it was unfair to do so, it was impossible not to compare this new event to the Indianapolis 500 – the only event to ever run there since 1911.

As we all know, shortly after that, IndyCar racing and NASCAR took vastly different trajectories. I don’t want to get into a history of “The Split”, but just a few years later; the Brickyard became the premier event at IMS – much to the bewilderment of myself and other open-wheel fans.

But the tide has turned. For the last few years, the Indianapolis 500 has returned to its rightful place as the No.1 race, while the Brickyard 400 has fallen on hard times for a variety of reasons.

First of all, it’s hot – very hot in central Indiana in mid-summer. The multitude of uncovered aluminum bleachers don’t help. It also doesn’t help that traditional NASCAR fans don’t care for the track. They can’t camp in the infield as they are used to doing, but worst of all – they can only see a portion of the track at one time, even from the best of seats. NASCAR fans are used to seeing all of Daytona, Talladega and practically any other oval from their seats high in the grandstands. That is not possible at Indianapolis. Apparently, they are not happy having to rely on the video boards to see their favorite driver around the backstretch.

Historically, the racing in the Brickyard 400 has not been great. Some say that the heavier stock cars are just too big to race on the most famous track in the world. They are more suited to wide, high-banked ovals – not relatively flat ninety-degree turns.

However, the Goodyear tire debacle of 2008 is probably the single biggest reason for a sharp decline in attendance in recent years. Goodyear brought the wrong tire that shredded on the diamond-ground pavement of IMS. For safety, NASCAR scheduled mandatory “competition cautions” every ten to twelve laps to give teams an opportunity to at least check the tires, if not change them under caution. Attendance has fallen every year since then.

Some estimate that the attendance for last year’s race was less than 75,000. While that number sounds astronomical for every IndyCar race that does not run on Memorial Day weekend, it is shockingly low for the Brickyard – where NASCAR had been averaging crowds of around 250,000 prior to the tire debacle. And in a cavernous facility like IMS, 75,000 looks like a mere handful of spectators.

Some IndyCar fans who are also NASCAR haters, take joy in seeing the attendance numbers dwindle at the Brickyard. They shouldn’t.

If you are a fan of the Verizon IndyCar Series, you want the Brickyard 400 to succeed. Why? Because the profits generated by the Brickyard 400 help to keep IndyCar afloat, that’s why – plain and simple. From what I understand, profits from the Indianapolis 500 help sustain IMS, but the profits from the Brickyard help sustain IndyCar. I’m sure the balance sheet at Hulman and Company is just a tad bit more complicated than that, but that is the overall gist of the financial structure.

I don’t pretend to know how much money the Brickyard 400 brings in or how much profit IMS makes off of the race. But I do know this much – if the race were losing money for IMS, it would not remain on the schedule year after year. But if attendance keeps dwindling, it will eventually get to that point. Then, another main source of revenue will dry up for IndyCar.

After making the (correct, in my opinion) decision to refund ticket buyers to the defunct Boston Grand Prix, a race in Brazil that never ran in 2015 and the loss of major sponsors like IZOD and Apex-Brasil – IndyCar cannot see many more revenue sources dry up. These are not the old days when Tony George kept throwing his family’s money into the series to prop it up. Nowadays, IndyCar officials are held accountable for their expenditures. If the money isn’t there, they can no longer do it.

Doug Boles took over an ailing Brickyard 400 when he became IMS President in 2013. His tallest order is to keep turning a healthy profit for a NASCAR race that has fallen out of favor with the public. It may be too much to ask.

So, if you tune in this weekend and see a lot of empty seats at the Brickyard 400 this Sunday – don’t smirk, even if you are tempted to. It’s not NASCAR who will be feeling it in the pocketbook; rather it is the Verizon IndyCar Series that we all follow. NASCAR succeeding at Indianapolis is truly a case of all boats rising. Let’s wish them well.

George Phillips

16 Responses to “Why We Want The Brickyard 400 To Succeed”

  1. Doug Gardner Says:

    If this year holds true to local reports as of Wednesday of only 35k tickets sold. The incredible heat projected for the weekend. Less than 50k on the premises for the race. I hope TV cameras get their angles correct and only show cars on the track. It is embarrassing for IMS, but not their fault. They have done everything but purchase tickets.

    • I’m not sure where you’re getting that figure? Which publication or news channel has reported that? I live in Indianapolis and I’ve been on all four local stations this morning and have not seen that number reported anywhere. The IMS would never release a number like that before the race. Unfortunately I believe your reporting is pure speculation, at best, no offense.

      • I guess take it with a grain of salt, but Robin Miller was on the radio the other day saying less than 35K tickets sold. I doubt that there will be 50K.

        • I’m sorry, I cannot find that story anywhere, not on 1070thefan ( where Miller stops by every week) nor on RACER.com (where he is employed). I would think those numbers would be a huge story here but so far nothing.

          • Tony Donohue, who works at 1070 the fan with JMV posted it on twitter on Monday @tonydd1070 saying it came from Robin. Again, Robin sort of has his own agenda, but I think attendance will be south of 50K

          • I STAND CORRECTED, in fact I found the audio from Miller himself stating as of a week ago only 32,000 tickets had been sold. Ouch.

            Sorry guys, I was wrong, but I did have to dig for that, lol.

        • billytheskink Says:

          I would take that with a grain of salt because Miller has a tendency to lowball attendance figures and ticket sales.

          That said, I would not bet on this year’s crowd topping last year’s. It won’t be especially good, unfortunately.

  2. I had tickets for the first 20 Brickyard 400’s. It’s very true that the debacle in 2008 with the tires is what really started the attendance to decline. That debacle followed a similar one for the F1 race just a few years before. As I recall, no one was told about the decision to pit every 10-15 laps or so until the race was to start. We all expected at least a discount on the next years tickets and when that did not happen, thousands dropped their tickets and the drop has continued.

    I gave up my tickets when IMS, three years ago, listening to the Boston advisors, took my season tickets away in Stand A to make it a family general seating area. Apparently they don’t understand what a season ticket means to a fan. Of course they promised to find me tickets in a more expensive area, with a slight discount the first year. These decisions caused another big drop in attendance as several very good sections were turned in to general seating sections and thousands lost their long held seats.

    Its sad when I can remember going to Pole Days in May with over 100,000 people, or the Brickyard with 280,000 people. You can say what you want about the decline of Indycar, but when Indycar and Nascar have seen declines at the same track, maybe its time for IMS to look in the mirror and change direction. About the only thing they have done right is to add the Indy Grand Prix to the month of May, and that might be better as a September race. But just about every other decision gets a thumbs down from me. Boston should be a dirty word at IMS for more reasons than one.

  3. Geoff Brabham also was in the ’94 Brickyard

  4. Ron Ford Says:

    My interest in racing ranges all the way from IndyCars to the Iditarod. My favorites remain non-wing open wheel on dirt and pavement. I have no interest in F1. I will watch Nascar from time to time, but never Daytona or Talladega. I went to a Nascar race at Road America and enjoyed it, although the experience was no doubt enhanced by the food and surroundings. I agree with George that it is to the benefit of the IMS and IndyCar for the Brickyard 400 to succeed financially. This year there is the added interest related to Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon. That will be perhaps offset by the heat. Hopefully Nascar has stumbled on a aero package that will make the racing better than it has been in the past. I will be cheering for Wisconsin native Matt Kenseth.

  5. billytheskink Says:

    I will give Boles and IMS credit for putting in a good faith effort to revive this event in the wake of the tire debacle by adding the Xfinity series race and the now-dropped sports car event. Unfortunately, it does not seem to be working, but the Speedway is definitely trying. We saw this too with the temporary dirt track that was built and used a few weeks back. I thought that was a great promotion.

    While I don’t think the Brickyard 400 is typically one of NASCAR’s best races, I do find it to be an interesting challenge for the stock cars, much like Pocono or the road courses. I’d hate to see it leave the NASCAR schedule, even beyond the financial benefit it provides to the Indycar series.

  6. Any reason to see activity going on at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is always good for me. I have always felt that the IMS backdrop has done nothing but to enhance the Cup Series. However, I am not so sure how the powers at NASCAR see it. The Brickyard 400 should be spoke of with the same reverence extended to Bristol, Charlotte and Daytona. The essence of it’s history and importance does not escape Tony Stewart who has won the race twice. In the end, NASCAR has a terrific race and should take more pride in presenting it. Of course, it is not Daytona, but Daytona is not Indianapolis.

  7. Financially IMS makes money from NASCAR by sharing in some of their TV deal money, so unlike Indycar that has to rely on ticket sales to profit NASCAR tracks do not. So even woth 35k tickets sold IMS will still be in the green for hosting the race. While attendance seems to be thinning it is for obvious reasons that were mentioned. It is not an exciting race especially for non die hard NASCAR fans. Daytona, Talledega and other tracks that offer continuous side by side racing is better than the “train” racing at Indy. That being said who wants to sit in 90+ degree temps to watch such a race? Its hot and a number of fans agree it should be moved to Sept or Oct or the non happening night race. Another factor that isnt mentioned is that NASCAR has a race in Kentucky, Michigan, and Chicago all within a month of each other. Those are places where Indianapolis draws fans from in the month of May. There is very little incentive to travel to Indy when you have a race with better racing close by. While racing is racing and Indy is Indy unfortunately this event has become a very local destination when it comes to this race. That being the case aftet watching the Indy 500 many of your casual fans are just not impressed with the type of racing they get with NASCAR. Even I have decided not to attend this year and I’m at IMS for everything from Easter egg hunts to just stopping by to eat my lunch there. I will be watching everything from the Air Conditioned comfort of my home just 10 miles away.

  8. Bruce Waine Says:

    If you have a product, then it naturally follows that you must sell that product to your customers if you want to stay in business and/or be $ucce$$ful.

    Or as in our racing world, ” In order to finish first, first you must finish.”

    So you have a race course.

    What does your business plan indicate that are the actions which will make it a success?

    ………………. And not the ‘Boston Planning Group’ modus operandi.

  9. Yannick Says:

    Originally a fan of F1 who watched his first IndyCar races when Nigel Mansell and Christian Danner had left for the US but was turned off by the Split and only returned to watch once reunification had happened, I have largely turned my back on F1 during the past 5 years in favour of IndyCars.

    I’ve only watched one Sprint Cup race so far ever, and that was the Watkins Glen round a few years back when AJ Allmendinger battled Marcos Ambrose for the win. I watched that only because I missed watching cars race at Watkins Glen and I was curious about how AJ Allmendinger would run like in his chosen domain, having missed his original ChampCar heyday back in the day.
    Most likely, this will remain my only taste of NASCAR.

    Here’s wishing you guys a safe and enjoyable race anyway.

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