Gorches: Brickyard could use change
By Steve T. Gorches 314-3797 or firstname.lastname@example.org July 27, 2013 10:08PM
Sprint Cup Series driver Ryan Newman, right, is congratulated by driver Tony Stewart after Newman qualified for the pole position for the Brickyard 400 auto race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis, Saturday, July 27, 2013. Newman qualified with a speed of 187.531 mph. (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)
Updated: August 30, 2013 6:50AM
INDIANAPOLIS — It’s been more than 20 years since NASCAR even thought of racing at the iconic Indianapolis Motor Speedway that had only hosted open-wheel cars one month a year (the Indy 500 in May) before 1994.
It was June 22, 1992, when several NASCAR teams raced around the 2.5-mile track for the first time during a Goodyear tire test.
How much did fans want stock car racing to come to the historic track? There were 10,000 in attendance just to watch those cars test tires.
Less than a year later, it was announced that NASCAR would come to IMS on Aug. 6, 1994, and the top 35 teams were invited back to the Brickyard later that year to do some more testing.
Thousands of fans showed up again.
A young, confident, baby-faced Jeff Gordon, who grew up in Indiana, won that first Brickyard 400 in front of 250,000 spectators. In 2006, the attendance peaked at 280,000.
On Sunday, the 20th Brickyard 400 will have considerably less fans in the expansive stands across the 1,000 acres of land that comprise IMS (last year had 125,000), but the actual race might be more exciting.
Why has the attendance dropped over the years? Some say the 2008 race in which the Car of Tomorrow was first used at IMS and the Goodyear tires, coupled with more down-force of the cars, resulted in blowouts and NASCAR having mandatory caution flags every 10-12 laps.
“We know that our race has had its challenges as far as the crowd,” Gordon told the Associated Press. “It sure would be nice to know how we can get back to that.”
How about more competitive races? The Brickyard is tied for the second-longest NASCAR track with Pocono and Daytona at 2.5 miles (Talladega is the longest at 2.66 miles), but you can count on one hand the number of times in the previous 19 races that the finish was close. Daytona, Talladega and Pocono regularly have photo finishes and maybe a green-white-checkered-flag finish here and there.
Is that too much to ask?
At the Brickyard, yes it is, because it seems like the track is much better for open-wheel cars than heavy stock cars. They get spread out, it’s hard to pass, meaning late cautions that could result in an exciting finish are basically nonexistent.
Maybe the new Gen-6 car can change that at IMS. Fuel injection and a new chassis have resulted in 10 track records being broken this season, including Saturday at the Brickyard where nine different drivers broke the 9-year-old qualifying record.
Passing was tough on some tracks earlier this season with the Gen-6, but it can’t get any worse at the Brickyard. Maybe it actually helps. There were a couple cautions in the last 20 laps in Saturday’s Nationwide race that led to a little more exciting finish.
Another change that could bring fans back just for the novelty would be adding lights to IMS.
I know some old-school fans will say that’s blasphemy, but change is sometimes good, and the word is that the facility is leaning toward doing it.
“I think I can speak for everyone in the garage that it’s an honor to race here. We all grew up watching races here and idolizing guys that were successful at this track,” said Carl Edwards, who qualified third for Sunday’s race. “If putting lights up and making it a night race is more enjoyable for the fans and fits the schedule and works for the sport overall, then I think we’re all for it. It’ll be a blast and it’ll be a neat part of history if we are, in fact, the first series to run under lights here.”
And running under lights instead of the hot sun might also make the race more competitive since the IMS surface becomes very slick on a sunny afternoon.
Not everyone is on board with lights at IMS — Clint Bowyer has been quite vocal about it — but there were naysayers back in 1993 when NASCAR announced it was coming to Indy.
“The first time they came, I’ll be honest, I was 100 percent against it,” two-time Brickyard 400 winner Tony Stewart said. “But you know, after watching that first race, the second year, I was on the fence, and by the third year I was a fan of it.”
And the same thing will happen if lights are installed. Change is good.