|WOODY: Indy's Brickyard dazzle has dimmed for NASCAR
|Posted: Sunday, August 5, 2012 5:32 am
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|I covered the inaugural Brickyard 400 at venerated old Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1994 and it was just about the most exciting thing to hit motor sports since Miss Speedway discovered Spandex.
There were some misgivings about Bubba's invasion of the Brickyard. Certain snooty open-wheel traditionalists sniffed that NASCAR's "Taxi Cabs" would desecrate the hallowed bricks. They likened it to booking a jug band at Carnegie Hall.
On the other side of the racing tracks, some NASCAR die-hards got their overalls in a wad worrying that holding a race at Indy would dilute the Daytona 500 and relegate stock car racing's Super Bowl to an automotive afterthought.
Turned out, all fears were for naught.
Indianapolis Motor Speedway and its premier event, the Indy 500, haven't been tainted by NASCAR's annual visit, nor has Daytona been diminished.
Judging from the turnout at Sunday's Brickyawn 400 – oops, I mean the Brickyard 400 – the Indy aura has just about worn off.
Nineteen years ago some 400,000 fans packed the Speedway grandstands and spilled into the infield. It was estimated that a million tickets could have been sold if there had been seating space.
Fast-forward to last Sunday: finding a seat wasn't a problem. The grandstands weren't half full.
And the race? Boredom on the bricks. The only good thing that could be said about the Brickyard 400 was that it wasn't the Brickyard 500.
Indianapolis Motor Speedway is a big (2.5-mile) flat track that was not designed for stock car racing. It was built for the sheer speeds of the open-wheelers, not for the side-by-side contact style of NASCAR.
According to legend, NASCAR founder Bill France was once denied a pass to the Indy 500 and, in a huff, went back to Daytona and began making plans to out-do those haughty Hoosiers. He built a bigger track than Indy -- 2.6 miles – near Talladega, Ala.
France's Talladega monster was eight lanes wide with skyscraper banks. It was built for big, bulky stock cars, not Indy's dainty little glorified go-karts.
And somewhere today, Big Bill is smiling. There's more action in one turn at Talladega than in 400 miles around Indy.
In fairness, the Brickyard is not alone when it comes to the racing blahs. NASCAR has lost much of the daring-do that at one time made it the nation's No. 1 spectator sport on a per-event basis. The combination of bad economy and bad racing has hit the sport hard; witness the demise of Nashville Superspeedway last year due to a terminal case of Empty Seat Syndrome.
Even such former jam-packed, action-packed venues as Bristol have turned tame and listless.
But somehow we expected more from Indy. That's racing's Lambeau Field, and you don't go to Lambeau to watch touch football.
The only thing that separates Indy from other flat, boring tracks (like Pocono, for example) is a good press agent.
But an old racetrack, like a fading athlete, can live on its legacy only so long. Judging from the sea of grandstand empties last Sunday, Indy's interest is waning.
Part of NASCAR's Indy tradition has been for the winning driver and his team to kneel and kiss the bricks at the end of the race. It's hokey and unhygienic – like kissing your driveway -- but perhaps the post-race smooch is symbolic:
More and more fans are kissing the bricks goodbye.
Larry Woody can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.