The 24th Running of the Brickyard 400 is this coming Sunday, July 23rd. The race has been a staple on the NASCAR schedule since its inception in 1994. The drivers love it. The diehard fans like it. But casual fans have all but banished it. The racing has never been up to the level that people in Indianapolis have come to expect from races, thanks to the Indianapolis 500. The track is a flat rectangular oval, which provides great racing for open-wheel cars, but not so much for stock cars. With attendance steadily declining in the last decade, especially following the Goodyear tire debacle in 2008, can anything be done to save this race that some hold dear?
People have suggested possibly moving the race to the night time, or even moving the race to the road course. NASCAR has tried larger spoilers in an attempt to bring the cars closer together, and in 2017 they are going as far as to try restrictor plates on the cars. It’s apparent that both fans and NASCAR want this marriage to work, but is it a lost cause?
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway(IMS) was first built in 1909. While the track has made slight changes to seating, a new Pagoda, new pylon, among other changes, the track has remained pretty much the same since its creation. When it was designed, Indianapolis businessman Carl G. Fisher predicted that speeds could reach up to 120mph. There was no way of anyone predicting back then that cars would be doing 200+ going into turns 1 and 3. The track simply was not designed to deal with heavy stock cars doing 200mph into the corners.
The key to making a stock car race competitive at IMS is making the cars hard to drive. In IndyCar, aerodynamics drastically changed the landscape of the Indianapolis 500. All of a sudden, drivers were able to go almost full throttle through the corners, creating some of the fastest and most competitive racing on the planet. This plan doesn’t work with heavy stock cars. In order for the Brickyard to be close and competitive, downforce must be at a minimum. Just look back at the cars when they first came to the “Brickyard”. The aerodynamics were at a minimum, so the drivers were sliding all over the place. The fastest way around IMS has always been by being free going around there. A few years ago, I thought IMS could possibly add progressive banking in the corners, in an effort to help with making a second lane around the track. It’s been made pretty obvious that IMS would ever consider making such a change.
Things can be done on both sides, in an effort to draw spectators back to the Brickyard. NASCAR needs to design a car that is harder to drive, with much less downforce, and I believe this change would make the racing improved on all tracks, not just IMS. IMS officials aren’t free of blame of the dimensioning crowds though. Ticket prices have consistently continued to rise, even as attendance drops. It appears that IMS is trying to charge NASCAR fans a premium, just because it is the famed track. This doesn’t work with fanbase that NASCAR has.
The harsh reality is that the Brickyard will never be a GREAT race, but it can be a GOOD race. It has had several in its history that come to mind, that were at least competitive. I have no idea what adding the restrictor plates will do to the racing this Sunday. I don’t think NASCAR officials even have a clue either. I’ll be out there, sporting NASCAR gear, continuing to support the race that made me fall in love with racing. The crowd will be small, people will continue to complain on social media, but I’m an optimist.
I hope the Brickyard is around for years to come, so that I can share my love for the race with my son. But will the city of Indianapolis, and NASCAR allow that to happen? We will soon see.