That is the smallest crowd ever for the Brickyard race and a remarkable decline from the more than 270,000 fans that turned out for the very first Brickyard race 19 years when it attracted more fans than any other Cup race. This year Daytona, Las Vegas, Texas and Charlotte will all boast bigger crowds. Heck, Pocono nearly drew that many a couple of weeks ago and it will be interesting to see how many fans show up there this weekend.
This was supposed to be a turnaround year at the Speedway. NASCAR pulled out all the stops, staging what it called a “Super Weekend,” holding a Grand Am race on Friday at the track, moving the Nationwide race over from Indianapolis Raceway Park on Saturday and shifting the Cup race to Sunday. No luck. Hardly anyone was at the Nationwide race and it served mostly to upset those who enjoyed Friday short tracking at IRP.
So what happened? Has stock car racing run its course at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway much as Formula One did?
It’s easy to point your finger at 2008, when NASCAR was forced to throw a caution flag every 10 laps or so because that’s as long as the Goodyear tires lasted. I was there. It was torture. Attendance plunged by 60,000 in 2009 and another 40,000 in 2010. That’s 100,000 fans in two years.
No doubt the recession also is to blame. But while most of the NASCAR tracks have held the line on attendance this year – or are even showing an increase – Indy shed another 10,000 fans. A couple of more years like this and there won’t be 100,000 at Speedway on race day.
But the recession and tire fiasco are only half the story. Let’s face it; the racing has never been all that good at the Speedway. Even before the Car of Tomorrow arrived on the scene, the field tended to get strung out in single file pretty quickly. The COT and its aero-sensitivity just added to the problem. The cars also looked plain weird crab-walking down the long straightaways of Indy than at any other track. Things have gotten better, but not much. Jimmie Johnson has won four of the past six years and led 99 or 160 laps on Sunday, including the last 39.
That’s all in stark contrast to this year’s Indy 500, which featured a record setting number of passes. Look for attendance at the 500 to be up next year as a result. Didn’t see anything at the Brickyard that would promote the same sort of confidence for next year’s stock car race.
So will NASCAR racing continue at the Brickyard? Absolutely. It’s the race that’s too big to fail. Driver’s say only the Daytona 500 is more important. Its remains a showcase for NASCAR and sponsors.
Just not for fans.
Is there anything that can be done to fix it? There’s talk of adding lights to the Speedway and running the race at night. Or how about an IndyCar/NASCAR day/night double header? Run a couple of 250-milers. That’s one way to give the fans their money’s worth and exceed their expectations.
But if you really want to start drawing fans back, the answer is the same as it is for Bristol or anywhere else. Put on a better race. And Tony, I’m not talking about crashing and bashing. I’m talking about racing. If you’re not sure what that means, go watch a tape of this year’s IndyCar race.