Monday, July 30, 2012

The Brickyard: Too Big to Fail?

If you thought there were just as many empty seats as occupied ones at Sunday’s Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway you were right.  With a seating capacity of nearly 260,000 and an estimated attendance of 125,000 (with a portion of those in the infield), you can see why there were so many empty seats. 

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.


  1. Cost, Cost, Cost!!!
    Price of tickets
    Price of gas
    Price of motels
    Price of food
    Price of souvenirs

    For the most part a large portion of nascar fans in the last 3 to 4 years have lost their jobs or if they have one have had to take pay cuts, shorter hours and less net pay. I find it hard to support the new na$car which is like any other business out to increase profits. The nascar management, owners & drivers making millions each year while the fans get to pay for it. Use to go in the 80's, 90's a few in the 2000's. Will watch on tv but that's it.

  2. Agreed. A couple years ago, it seems that alot of tracks slashed their ticket prices to get fans in the stands. IMS was one of the few who RAISED them. Typically, $5 to $10 isn't much, but when you add in the price of gas, the price of food, and gets unreasonable pretty fast.

    Another thing is the racing itself. Fans today want to see side by side battles for the lead, and yea, that's a lot of fun. But it can't be that way every lap. The first 5 to 10 laps every restart were like that. Side by side battles for position, sometimes 3 and 4 wide, and then things would settle down. In races a long time ago, it was even worse. I'm okay with this, for now. I'm curious to see how the 2013 cars handle it. Hopefully better!

  3. Michael in SoCalJuly 31, 2012 at 9:38 AM

    Keep the Cup series at the Brickyard - the drivers see it as a hugely important race to win. Fine. But don't be surprised when no one shows up and no one watches.

    Move the lower series back to IRP, where there is good racing. The racing at the Brickyard isn't any worse than Michigan, Pocono, Fontana, or a bunch of the cookie cutters. Let them have 1 race a year for the drivers.

  4. In addition to the 2008 tire issues, you have to remember the F1 Michelin issues. Between those two tire fiascos, the local area race fans had enough.

    Another big factor, is that for the die hard Indy fans, it was never ok for the "taxi" cabs to set a tire on to the track. Now that the novelty has worn off and open wheel is beginning to flourish at the 500 again, the core fans will start supporting the real traditions of the speedway. The "Stock" cars at the Speedway was always a sideshow at best once the open wheel split sting wore off.