Fourth Turn: “Rainy Day Thoughts”

People scurry as rain hits the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, washing out Saturday's scheduled qualifying. [Russ Lake Photo]

 People scurry as rain hits the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, washing out Saturday’s scheduled qualifying.  [Russ Lake Photo]


Walking into the Indianapolis Motor Speedway this morning from the media parking lot, conversation turned to the obvious: the first day of qualifying isn’t the electric, exciting, “WOW” event that it once was.

With a few thousand die-hard fans milling around the grounds on a dark and often rainy day, the mind wanders to days past when the qualifying exercise ran for two weekends and the crowds, especially for Pole Day, were often enormous.

Enormous? Time Trial crowds, enormous?

Once considered the second-largest attendance in American sports, just behind race day, Pole Day Saturdays often filled most of the grandstands at IMS.

Try telling that to modern race fans and you might as well have told them that AJ Foyt was going to get back in the cockpit for 2016’s 100th 500. It might be that hard to believe.

So how do we get from that, to the less than relevant day or two that qualifying seems to have become?

TV coverage may have something to do with it since racing has become highly visible and easy to find on many of the hundreds of cable and satellite channels. Why attend if you can watch for free in front of your 50+-inch high definition screen in the comfort of your living room?

Today’s Millennial generation doesn’t embrace much that’s related to automobiles whether it’s owning a car, driving one or watching them race.

Asking people to sit and watch practice and time-trials for 10 hours doesn’t seem to fit into the short attention span, “entertain me now but don’t let the ball game go for more than three hours” mentality that permeates society today.

Then there’s $20 to get in the grounds, family schedules that are so busy that they preclude a long day at the track, etc., etc., and you might begin to understand why we have so many empty seats on what was once an important $5 ticket, family day at the track.

Arie Luyendyk set the most recent track speed record (236.986 mph) back in 1996. Long time track announcer (1946-2006) Tom Carnegie’s famous “it’s a new track RECORD” call hasn’t been made or needed in 20 years. Tom passed away in 2011 and never got to voice it again.

Speed records don’t come along as often as they once did and the excitement of Parnelli Jones breaking the seemingly invincible 150mph barrier (150.370 mph) to capture the pole in 1962 may never again come along.

Interests change, times change and sports change. Spending two days at IMS to determine the starting line-up may be too much time invested today.

Rain washed out qualifying Saturday; they’ll likely get it done in one day tomorrow. I miss the “run for the pole” the way it once was. Probably a sign of getting older. But perhaps the weather is trying to tell us something.


Share Button