20th Brickyard 400 To Be Run At Indianapolis

It’s hard to believe that the Brickyard, Allstate, Big Machine Records, Crown Royal 400 will run its twentieth race this Sunday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Hoosier native Jeff Gordon captured that inaugural event in 1994 before 250,000 fans; a crowd that rivaled the Indianapolis 500 in size and perhaps exceeded the 500 with its enthusiasm.

But stock cars running at the Brickyard goes all the way back to 1961 when the legendary Ray Nichels Engineering conducted speed and endurance tests at the track with two 1962 Pontiacs. During those tests, Nichel’s crew set one lap, 500 mile and 24 hour world records for stock cars.

Jump to September, 1991, when AJ Foyt’s team filmed a commercial for one of his sponsors, Craftsman Tools, in the track’s garage area. During the filming, both AJ and Speedway president Tony George took laps around the track in AJ’s Winston Cup NASCAR racer and perhaps the seeds for a race were planted.

June, 1992, saw Goodyear bring nine NASCAR teams to 16th and Georgetown for a tire test, but many observers saw the effort as a compatibility test to see how competitive stock cars might be on the 2.5-mile, nearly flat rectangle. Ten-thousand fans turned up for the two days of activity and the seeds were about to take root.

An announcement was made in April, 1993, that the first “Brickyard 400” would be held on Saturday, August 6,1994, and an open test in August of ’93 found large crowds watching NASCAR’s top-35 teams practicing with a purpose: the long-awaited debut of stock car racing at IMS was only a year away.

Tickets in the early years of the race were at a premium, just as they had always been for the 500.

Over the years the Brickyard event became an important venue for teams and manufacturers to make announcements, an IROC race was added to the schedule from 1998-2003 and the race day was changed to Sunday in 2001 in hopes of gaining bigger TV ratings.

But tire problems that were encountered by Goodyear during the 2008 event left a bad taste in the mouths of many fans.

Heavy wear patterns on the tires saw numerous failures that required the Car of Tomorrow, being used here for the first time, to pit for new rubber every ten laps.

Spectators were not pleased with the competition that was greatly influenced by poor tire wear, and that seed of stock car racing at Indianapolis, which had grown into a blooming plant not too many years back, had a few leaves starting to fall.

Attendance and TV ratings have slipped over the last few years. The excitement of stock car racing here has waned somewhat, and new ideas to bring back enthusiasm for the race are being tried.

The Super Weekend at the Brickyard was introduced last year. The Grand AM Rolex series now stages a three-hour event on the IMS road course on Friday, followed by a 250-mile Nationwide Series event on Saturday.

There has also been talk of adding lights at the track in order to contest the 400 at night in hopes of combating the often searing July heat.
What will it take to bring back the excitement back to 1994 levels?

• Bring Indianapolis 500 drivers into the field for the Brickyard. Surely Team Penske, Target Chip Gannasi and Hendrick Motorsports could find an extra car for Dario Franchitti, Will Power, Graham Rahal or Marco Andretti. Having four or five Indy Car drivers competing could spark new interest among open wheel fans. Fifteen drivers have raced in both the 500 and the 400 in the past. Juan Pablo Montoya has competed in three Speedway events: the 400, 500 and the US Grand Prix. It can be done.

• Return the 400 to Saturday. Having a rain date on Sunday, as it had been from 1994-2000, could give more fans a chance to see the event should there be weather issues on Saturday. Many voiced their disappointment when the date was changed to Sunday in 2001. Having an extra day to drive home could encourage greater race day attendance.

• Give the Nationwide Series race back to Lucas Oil Raceway in Clermont. This event, held at the suburban Indianapolis short track from 1982-2011, was one of the most competitive series’ races on the schedule and played to SRO crowds every year. Let the Grand Am Rolex cars run earlier on Saturday at IMS, with the NNS event at Lucas Oil Raceway that evening. Three major events in three days at IMS are too many.

• Finally, return the track to its original configuration with a paved apron inside the turns. This would also satisfy the pleas of open wheel fans who want to see more room for Indy 500 drivers to race on the inside of the four turns. The apron was removed from the turns in 1992-93 as part of improvements to the track in anticipation of adding a stock car event to the schedule.

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is America’s Monza, Spa and Le Mans. The facility is world class, spectator amenities are constantly being improved and race purses are at an all-time high; but something needs to be done on this twentieth anniversary of the Brickyard to return it to its past importance.

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