Sparking Interest In The Month Of May

Indianapolis, IN – Much talk in racing circles today centers on how interest can be revived in practice, and especially time trials, for the Indianapolis 500. Back in the day, qualifying crowds for the first day of trials beat attendance at any other track on the circuit. Easily over 100,000 were in the stands on those May Saturdays when Tom Carneige would let us all know that “the track is now open for practice and qualifications.”

Speed records fell like dominoes in the 60’s and 70’s, but the last year that a track record was set was 13 years ago, and with safety a paramount issue, it’s not likely we’ll hear “it’s a new track record!” intoned by Mr. Carneige very soon.

Speed was a lure for attendance in that era as we crept over 150mph with Parnelli Jones in 1962. Jim Clark’s Lotus -Ford broke 160mph in 1965, and Tom Sneva took us past 200mph in 1978. By 1996 Arie Luyendyk finally settled the matter at 237.498 mph, a speed standard that you may not see broken in your lifetime.

Along with the lure of speed, technical innovation in the form of Novis, STP turbines, rear engines, Smokey Yunick’s side car, Mickey Thompson’s mini-tired rollerskate (with alleged rear-wheel steering) and on and on, contributed to an excitement and interest in seeing what design experiment would roll out of the garage area next.

The Speedway’s Centennial era has brought the roots of the track into more clear focus. And that history reveals that Carl Fisher’s original intent was for the Speedway to lead the way in developing the newly-born automobile of 1909, and especially to support Indiana’s growing automotive industry.
But as passenger cars modified for racing morphed into purpose-built racing vehicles in the 1920’s, the idea of developing the car driven daily on the road was essentially lost. Frontenacs and Millers replaced Peugots and Duesenbergs. And today’s Dallara/Honda is barely connected to what’s driven down I-94.

Solutions abound, as everyone seems to have an idea of how to spark greater interest among the general public in the 500 and the “Month of May.”
A great crowd turned out for today’s Miller Lite Carb Day activities. The infield and North Forty parking lots were filled by noon, and the attendance may easily have been double or more the number that witnessed the run for the Pole two weeks earlier.

But was it the sunny weather, the race-day crowd filtering into town looking for something to do, or was it the 3 Doors Down concert that filled the stage area after track activities ended for the day?

Tom Carneige no longer is on the microphone here, the STP turbines are hidden in museums, pole speeds are 14mph less than the track record and innovative changes in competition rules are still two years away.

The challenge now and in the future is to bring back a spark to the track’s build-up to the 500. Concerts, driver autograph sessions and creative promotions are positive steps. The track is world class, as Tony George has done all he can to make the facility a fan-friendly place to be.

But the thing that will spark the imagination of Joe Public will be innovation. Ethanol fuel in the racers is a start, but solar power and hybrid technology, etc., may be the type of developments that would make Carl Fisher smile, and begin to bring more fans ” Back home to Indiana.”

Pre race Track Notes:
? ESPN will have a hard time following the coverage that the Versus network has provided so far this season. With unique on-car viewing angles and excellent feature programming , Vision has set the bar high for the veteran ESPN crew. ESPN will use 59 cameras around the track including a 360-degree rotating onboard camera mounted behind the driver on several cars. They also plan to use a radio replay system to record and play back radios from all 33 starters.

? On the radio side, the IMS radio network will reach 350 affiliate stations with Sirius XM and the Armed Forces Network joining in on the coverage.

? Willy T. Ribbs, the first African-American to race in the 500, attended Carb Day activities on Friday, with news that he might renew his 500 involvement. ?(Owning a race team for thee 2011 race) is in the talking stage right now. In 2010 it would be too soon. It would be perfect because the 75th anniversary was when I was here. So to come back as a team owner for the 100th ?a mind blower.?

? Ryan Hunter- Reay announced here Friday that his primary sponsor Izod will continue on with him and the Vision team to the Milwaukee Mile. Hunter-Reay, who has a personal service deal with Izod will carry their colors this week at Indy and for at least one more time at Milwaukee.

? While sponsorless just a short while ago and looking for a 500 ride, Hunter-Reay commented, ? Having my personal sponsor take a more prominent role in my team just reinforces the successful partnership we have together.?

? Another Carb Day visitor was drag racing legend Don ?The Snake? Prudhomme WHO SAID THAT HE ENJOYS ALL FORMS OF RACING, BUT MOST APPRECIATES THE ADVANCES IN Indy car design. ? I just want to say how impressed I am with the safety of these cars today. When I first started coming out here the cars were aluminum tubs, and there wasn?t much to them. A lot of injuries. Today, with the composite cars and the safety walls, it?s really great. It?s a shame that a lot of people missed this race in the 50?s and 60?s with everything that took place out here: foyt, Gurney Jones: it was amazing times.?

? With the economic situation putting a crimp on fans who attend races, it is reported locally that ticket sales for the 500 are at about the same level as in 2008, but that many hotels are not fully booed over the weekend. A huge Friday crowd was on hand for the Carb Day activities and concert, but much of it was made up of local fans.

? Lauren George, youngest daughter of IRL founder and Vision Racing team co-owner tony George, assumed the role of team owner of Vision?s Indy Lights operation on May 7, her 18th birthday. She will be entering Notre Dame University in the fall.

? Sarah Fisher Racing held a party Friday night at the team?s shop west of the track to thank their sponsors including main supporter Dollar General and Milwaukee-based Direct Supply. Bob Hillis the head of Direct supply was in attendance.

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