August 1, 2012
NASCAR at The Brickyard: What's wrong with this picture?
By Peter M. De Lorenzo
(Posted 7/30, 10:00 a.m.) Detroit. Jimmie Johnson won his fourth Brickyard 400 Sprint Cup race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Sunday, tying him with mentor and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon. I choose to ignore all of the ritual hand-wringing by the media tallying Gordon's and Johnson's four wins while comparing them to the greats who competed at the Indianapolis 500, because it's completely irrelevant. NASCAR at The Brickyard is the Sideshow Bob of motorsport, and even with the depleted popularity of the Indy 500, the NASCAR machine is comfortably mired as a Tier 2 event at The Speedway.
Why is that, exactly? Why is it that the attendance at The Brickyard NASCAR race continues to spiral downward with each passing year? This year's race was particularly glaring in that the cavernous Indianapolis Motor Speedway facility seemed to swallow the estimated 100,000 or so in attendance. Yes, getting 100,000 fans to attend a race - any race - is still quite an achievement these days, but it's one thing at Charlotte or Texas, and it's quite another at the most historic race track in the world.
NASCAR even tried to pump up the event weekend with a series of Grand-Am support road races and a Nationwide race, but it didn't help. Grand-Am attendance was virtually nonexistent (not a new phenomenon by any stretch), while the sparse crowd at the Nationwide race was even more appalling given the almost limitless confines of The Speedway.
Back to the previous point. Why? As I've written many times before in this column, racing is at a crisis in the U.S. Interest - real interest by previously hard-core racing enthusiasts - is waning. And the recruiting of new young enthusiasts has proved to be difficult and the gravest, most fundamental challenge facing the sport. NASCAR hasn't helped itself, of course. The disastrous move to the cookie-cutter "Car of Tomorrow" was a hugely embarrassing misstep by a marketing machine legendary in its previous ability to know its fans inside and out, and even though the move to all-new cars much closer to their production counterparts in look and feel is coming next February, NASCAR will take years to recover from it, if at all.
That NASCAR attaches huge significance to running at The Speedway isn't helping their cause either. No, it can't be described as "just another race" because it's the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and nothing about competing there can be described as just another race, but NASCAR's insistence that it is one of their "jewel" events makes the lack of attendance even more embarrassing.
There's no point in regurgitating the myriad problems and issues facing NASCAR, because I'm even bored with doing that at this juncture. Suffice to say the organization's consistent inability to get out front of its problems is even more legendary than its intermittently illustrious history. And their myriad problems are compounded by the fact that NASCAR's woefully out-of-touch leader, Brian France, insists that they still have it going on in a sad, Alfred E. Neuman-like, "What, Me Worry?" harangue that remains eerily puzzling and strange.
What's wrong with NASCAR at The Brickyard? In short, everything. Whatever NASCAR thought it would be or wanted it to be at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway doesn't exist anymore, if it ever did. The novelty of "stock cars" running around The Speedway wore off long ago. Now it's just another race filling out a spot on the calendar in NASCAR's "death march" of a schedule, the most ridiculous schedule in all of a sport. (And when you have the NHL and NBA in the discussion, that's saying something.)
The event will continue, of course, because contemplating a NASCAR schedule without The Brickyard would be like NASCAR actually admitting that they have too many races on their schedule. In other words, it will never happen.
And that's the High-Octane Truth in motorsports this week.
Publisher's Note: As part of our continuing series celebrating the "Glory Days" of racing, we're proud to present another noteworthy image from the Ford Racing Archives. - PMD
(Courtesy of the Ford Racing Archives and Wieck Media)
Kent, Washington, October 10, 1967. Parnelli Jones at speed in his Bud Moore Engineering-prepared Mercury Cougar during the SCCA Trans-Am Kent 300 at Pacific Raceways in Kent, Washington. Mark Donohue (No. 6 Penske Racing Chevrolet Camaro Z28) would win that day, followed by Ronnie Bucknum (No. 31 Grady Davis-entered Ford Mustang) and Dan Gurney (No. 98 Bud Moore Engineering Mercury Cougar). Jones would DNF with engine problems. Check out a brief video glimpse of the 1967 Trans-Am Championship here including interesting interviews with Roger Penske and Dan Gurney about that season.
Publisher's Note: Like these Ford racing photos? Check out www.fordimages.com. Be forewarned, however, because you won't be able to go there and not order something. - PMD
See another live episode of "Autoline After Hours" with hosts John McElroy, from Autoline Detroit, and Peter De Lorenzo, The Autoextremist, and guests this Thursday evening, at 7:00PM EDT at www.autolinedetroit.tv.
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