Brickyard 400 Still Profitable?

Kasey Kahne leads the field at the Brickyard 400.  [Russ Lake Photo]


Indianapolis – In an article in the current edition of the Indianapolis Business Journal, writer Anthony Schoettle discusses the financial condition of the Brickyard 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The race, first run in 1994 and won by a then up-and-coming youngster named Jeff Gordon, was among the most popular and best attended in the series.

Schoettle notes that the profit generated by those early 400’s was enough to be used by IMS to prop-up their Indy Racing League (now the Indy Car Series).

And profits there were in those early days of the Brickyard, when stock cars racing on the hallowed grounds of the Indianapolis 500 was a new and exciting prospect.

With near capacity crowds attending in the 1990’s, the event looked like a cinch to rise to the top of the NASCAR schedule; right up there with the Daytona 500.

But it didn’t take long to realize that the contours of the track weren’t well-suited for stock car competition, resulting in strung-out, single file racing.

Hot July weather, a move generated by TV to run on Sunday rather than Saturday, a 2008 tire-wear problem and an increasing number of tracks hosting NASCAR events within a reasonable driving distance from Indy all combined to take the shine off what was once a jewel on the schedule.

Now news comes that the race may be nearing a point where profits and expenses are about equal; not a pleasant prospect for any business.

The 2015 event drew a reported 75,000 fans, down from the happy days of 200,000-plus attendance; this even though Gordon, that Hoosier lad and inaugural race winner, was appearing for the last time in his retirement season.

Gordon is back for this year’s race, albeit temporarily, running here and in Pocono for the injured Dale Earnhardt Jr. But that late-breaking news, combined with Tony Stewart’s farewell race at Indianapolis may, or may not, provide at least a temporary bump in interest.

Solutions? Two come to mind.

One: Switch the Brickyard race from late July to the fall during the Sprint Cup Chase. If Chicagoland’s September date switched with Indy it would keep NASCAR in the Midwest for the Chase while giving Chicagoland a clearer sports scene in July, away from the Bear’s early NFL season and the surging Cub’s run to the play-offs.

Two: Verizon Indy Car Series drivers are idle this week and several would probably be interested in doing a one-off race at a track they know well. Make it mandatory that each top NASCAR team (Ganassi, Penske, Hendrick, Gibbs and Roush) provide a car for an interested Indy Car driver. My guess is that if Kanaan, Montoya, Hinchcliffe, Dixon, and how about the 500 winner Rossi were entered, it would create fan interest that no other NASCAR track could provide.

It’s obvious that something creative needs to be done by NASCAR and IMS to keep this race on the schedule and near the top of its former NASCAR popularity. It can’t continue to lose fans and hopefully won’t become a money-loser as well.





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