Indianapolis 500 Traditions, Time To Rethink?

SPEEDWAY, IN: The Indianapolis 500 has been around almost 100 years, and it’s traditions are a large part of Race’s appeal. Unfortunately, the tradition of running the Race in the month of May is one that, perhaps, should be seriously reconsidered.

History tells us that the Speedway was built in 1909, and the first 500 mile race was contested on Memorial day, 1911. Apparently, the reason that the original track owners chose that date were twofold: Memorial Day would be the year’s first big holiday with sufficient daylight to hold such an event, plus the owners needed to generate revenue quickly to pay for the 3,200,000 million bricks it had purchased the year before. Of course, it all worked out, and the Indianapolis 500 Mile Sweepstakes was born.

But now, 97 years later, the Indy 500 finds itself in the position of needing to rebuild it’s credibility. Since the mid ’90’s, interest in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” has wained considerably. There is no simple explanation for this but, among the most obvious reasons, are:

1. “The Split”. Happily, this one has already been be fixed. Prior to the start of the 2008 season, the Champ Car series folded it’s tent, leaving several strong open wheel teams to join the Indy Racing League. A huge step forward.

2. The 800 pound gorilla: NASCAR. When the open wheel racing world became fractured in the mid-ninetys, NASCAR was able to fill the void with new tracks, plenty of TV coverage, etc. Sadly, many of the great young up-and-coming American drivers took advantage of the opportunities available in NASCAR-land and headed South. Thus, many of the future stars of the Indy 500 became the stars of the Daytona 500 instead.

3. Lack of identifiable American drivers in the Indy 500. See #2….

4. No more “New Track Records”. Since Arie Luyendyk nearly broke the 240 MPH barrier in 1996, rules have been in place designed to cut lap speeds in the name of safety. We now realize that one on the big attractions was being on hand to hear Tom Carnegie bellowing, “And…it’s a New Track Record!”. And, even though Tom is still around, it’s unlikely that we’ll ever get to hear him, or anyone else, utter that spine-tingling phrase again.

5. “Spec” Cars. Another area of great interest to race fans was was the wide variety of cars that were on hand trying to make the field. The original intent of the Speedway was to provide a proving ground for technology. We used to have NOVI’s, turbines, 4-wheel drive, Watson roadsters, Lotus’s and Coyotes. Now, it’s a field of basically identical Dallara/Hondas. It gives us a lot less to get our teeth into…

6. No “Snake Pit!”. It could be argued that this is a good thing. But…I’m not so sure. Whether you were a spectator or participant, the Snake Pit was a side show that was unique to the Speedway. It was nothing more than a grassy area inside of Turn One, where the term, “party hearty” may have originated. And, whether you choose to be directly involved or not, it became something you counted on to be there each May. Without it, the Speedway infield became just another place to park cars.

7. Gas prices. Let’s not go there. It’s too depressing…

8. Rain. If there was just some way to avoid the always-unstable Indiana weather in the month of May, I truly believe that things could turn around, and the Indy 500 could begin to regain it’s former glory. Watching jet-dryers for at least half of most Months of May at Indy in no one’s idea of fun. But, how can the constant disappointments cause by the May showers be avoided?

Simple. Forget tradition, and move the Indianapolis 500 to June!

Crackpot idea? Maybe. Blasphemy? Perhaps.

An idea whose time has come? Hell yes!

Central Indiana residents agree that June is the nicest weather month of the year. Just think of it…a month at the Speedway with mild, sunny days and very little chance of long-lasting periods of rain! Cars on the track every day…dry clothes…a pocketful of un-used rain stubs…wow…

Could it happen? Probably not…but it should. Tradition is a wonderful thing, and it got us this far. But, for the future of the biggest single-day sporting event on the planet, it’s time for tradition to take a back seat to common sense, It’s unreasonable to expect people to continue to devote time and money to supporting the Indy 500 if all they’re going to get is wet…

With all due respect to Memorial Day, and all it represents, let’s move the Indianapolis 500 to June.

Before it’s too late…

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