History, Brickyard And ORP Events Make Indy Experience Unlike Any Other In NASCAR

Charlotte, NC – It’s hard to believe this Sunday’s Brickyard 400 will be the 15th edition of the now famous NASCAR race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It seems like just yesterday that NASCAR made its debut at the most famous raceway in the world in 1994.

With all due respect to places like Daytona and LeMans, Indianapolis is king when it comes to being associated with auto racing. Mention the word ‘Indy’ to anybody, and they immediately think of racing – nothing else.

It’s been that way since 1909 when the track was built and opened by Indianapolis businessmen Carl G. Fischer, James Allison, Arthur Newby and Frank Wheeler. Ironically, the first event wasn’t a car race, but rather balloon ascension.

The original 2.5-mile racing layout remains unchanged today and was initially constructed of crushed stone, a surface that quickly proved to be unsuitable for racing. Undaunted, Fischer had the track resurfaced with 3.2 million paving bricks in late 1909 and the legend of the ‘Brickyard’ was born.

The Indianapolis track roared into history two years later when on May 30, 1911, Ray Haroun won the first-ever 500-mile event. From 1911 through 1941 and again from 1946 through 1993, Indy was the solely reserved for open wheel racing. That all changed when NASCAR came to town in 1994.
By the middle of the 1992 season, NASCAR and officials at the speedway were in negotiations to bring stock cars to the famed raceway. The buzz about the race hit full throttle in 1993 when testing at the track drew thousands of curious fans. When the race was announced as part of the 1994 schedule, tickets sold out in just 12 hours.

More than 70 cars showed up for the inaugural 1994 Brickyard 400 with top Indy Car stars like A.J. Foyt, Danny Sullivan, Wally Dallenbach and Geoff Brabham all posting entries for the event. In qualifying, Rick Mast took advantage of a Goodyear versus Hoosier Tire war that raged throughout the 1994 season winning the pole on the softer compound Hoosier tires with a lap of 172.414 miles per hour. Dale Earnhardt was second followed by Jeff Gordon, Geoff Bodine and Bobby Labonte. Mast won $50,000 and a $40,000 conversion van just for capturing the pole.

The pre-event festivities were unlike anything ever seen in NASCAR with more than 300,000 fans turning the front stretch into a cavern of humanity. To say the atmosphere was electric is an understatement as Mary Hulman gave the command to start engines.

Earnhardt was the first contender to fall by the wayside smacking the Turn 4 wall in an effort to lead the first lap. Mast and Gordon, along with five other drivers, led during the first 90 circuits before the real fireworks started with brothers Geoff and Brett Bodine tangling as they raced off Turn four on a Lap 100 restart. Later, the two exchanged barbs during their television interviews showing that the pressure of winning the first-ever Brickyard 400 could even alienate brothers.

In the end, it was Indiana favorite son Gordon taking the win over Brett Bodine, Bill Elliott and Rusty Wallace. Earnhardt recovered from his first-lap miscue to finish fifth with Darrell Waltrip, Ken Schrader, Michael Waltrip, Todd Bodine and Morgan Shepherd completing the Top-10 finishers.
For Gordon, it was just the second of his current total of 81 NASCAR Sprint Cup wins and earned him a staggering $613,000 in prize money. To give you a reference as to just how much that was in 1994 NASCAR earnings, Sterling Marlin earned $258,215 for winning the Daytona 500 earlier that year.

Since that first 1994 Brickyard 400 event, NASCAR has come back to Indy 13 times with Earnhardt, Dale Jarrett, Ricky Rudd, Labonte, Elliott, Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart all adding their names to the list of winners of the event. Gordon has won the race a record four times with Jarrett and Stewart (the defending champion) each capturing it twice.

This year, it’s anybody’s guess who will take the checkered flag first. At the very least, the race will be different than the 14 Brickyard 400’s that have preceded it as it will be the first time NASCAR’s Car of Tomorrow competes at the famed track.

There can be no doubt, however, that the race will be one of the most watched events of the season because, after all, it’s Indy and the 15th running of the Brickyard 400. What else do you need to say?

What Weekend Off?
This was supposed to be a weekend off for drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, but you would never know it looking at some of the race rundowns from around the country.

At Gateway International Raceway near St. Louis, Carl Edwards, Clint Bowyer, David Reutimann, Reed Sorenson and Jamie McMurray all competed in the NASCAR Nationwide Series event Saturday while down the river in Kentucky, Kyle Busch strapped on a NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series entry.
Busch, along with Matt Kenseth, also competed in an American Speed Association race at Iowa Speedway while Kevin Harvick was all set to go in a late model stock car race at Oxford Plains Speedway in Maine before rain washed out the program Sunday.
So much for a little down time between races.

All Indy All The Time
Fans looking for a racing fix from Indy won’t have to search far this week as ESPN will flood it’s networks with practice, qualifying and racing action.
The network will provide live coverage of both practice sessions on ESPN2. and ESPN MobileTV, the company’s 24/7 mobile video network. Qualifying will also be telecast live on Saturday beginning at 10 a.m. Eastern Time. Flag-to-flag coverage of the Brickyard 400 on ESPN is set for Sunday, July 27, at 1 p.m. Eastern Time. The Brickyard is the first of 17 Sprint Cup events ESPN networks will carry this season with the first six on ESPN and the final 11 on ABC.

Stock the fridge and saddle up the couch.

More Indy Fun
If the Brickyard 400 wasn’t enough, there’s also a NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race and a Nationwide event at O’Reilly Raceway Park (IRP for the purists) in Clemont, IN – just outside Indianapolis – this weekend.

The trucks will do battle in a 200-lap ORP oval (right) Friday night before the Nationwide cars belt up for a 250-lapper Saturday. These are usually two of the best races on each circuit each year thanks in large part to the unique ORP half-mile oval.

Final Thoughts –
After covering the Indy 500 several times in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s as a sports editor for a daily Wisconsin newspaper, this writer got his first taste of Indy as an insider serving as the public relations rep for Bobby Labonte and the No. 22 Maxwell House Pontiac at the first Brickyard 400.
Standing on the front stretch and being a part of the race photo taken before the inaugural 1994 Brickyard 400 is still one of this writer’s most memorable moments in nearly 25 years of being professionally active in the sport.

In recent years, I’ve spent most of my time during Indy week at ORP spotting several different Truck and Nationwide Series drivers including Rich Bickle, Lonnie Rush, Jimmie Spencer and Terry Cook. This too has been a career highlight as a chance writing assignment covering the 1993 Busch Series race at the then named IRP provided a big boost to my career and opened the door for the 1994 Maxwell House gig. To compete in any NASCAR race as a spotter is an unbelievable experience – but to do it at places that moved your career along is even more special.

That said, I can’t wait to get to ORP this week and spot Donny Lia and the No. 71 TRG Motorsports Chevy in Friday’s Truck Series race We’re coming off a 20th-place fiish at Kentucky this weekend and will be hoping to find the short-track magic that put us in Victory Lane at Mansfield earlier this year.

Hope you enjoy all the events – the Trucks, Nationwide and Cup races – from Indy this week. It doesn’t get any better than this.

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