It’s hard to know whether to be sad, mad, embarrassed or all of the above when thinking about the state of affairs of the annual running of the Brickyard 400 featuring NASCAR’s Cup Series.
It seems like only yesterday that the anticipation build-up for the first running of the Brickyard was at a fever pitch. My, what a difference 25 years can make.
The grandstands back then were a sea of different colors. Colors that represented favorite drivers or teams. The stands were packed although officials never said whether or not the early years of the Brickyard exceeded the 500 crowds — but many speculated they did.
Fast forward to Sunday afternoon and the casual race fan wouldn’t even have known there was a race in the state.
I drove nearly 100 miles Saturday and didn’t see the first sign of a big race going on anywhere. It was like just about any other weekend with the lone exception being Memorial Day weekend when all the pomp and circumstance that surrounds the 500 is going on across the state.
Sunday’s race wasn’t quite as boring as in previous years — as a matter of fact, there were times that I was actually enjoying the race — but as a Hoosier I felt like I was in a quandary.
The crowd was abysmal, which was sad since Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Doug Boles flat-out busted his butt all summer trying to bring fans to the race. That’s where the mad/embarrassed feelings came in.
Boles had worked the crowds at dirt tracks promoting the BC39 Driven 2 Save Lives USAC National Midget Series event (which was sold out) and the Brickyard, which was moved to September this year in hopes of better attendance.
Boles put in the effort, but trying to sell the product he was promoting is almost impossible. There is nobody racing every Sunday who has the drawing power to bring out “on the fence” fans.
As it is now, the only true villain is Kyle Busch and maybe the Penske two of Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano. Other than that, the rest of the field is pretty vanilla. Chase Elliott is the series’ most popular driver, but even he doesn’t have what it takes to crack the icy veneer that is Indiana race fans and what they’ve grown to expect.
One of three things need to happen and happen fast.
First, either move the race to the Lucas Oil Raceway Park or to the infield road course.
Road racing has become more and more popular with the fans in the last couple of years and the smaller tracks have always been a hit to those buying tickets (think Martinsville, Bristol and Richmond). The stock cars are simply too big and the track too big for an entertaining race. There’s maybe a groove and a half to race on and passing is a rarity. Let the guys get on one of the other tracks and beat and bang like the good old days.
Second, Darrell “Bubba” Wallace needs to build on his third-place finish from Sunday’s race.
Wallace has perhaps the most potential and definitely the charisma to be the next big thing for the sport. He says what’s on his mind, has a great personality and to be honest, Wallace could not care less what the more established drivers think of him. Listening to him on radio communications with his team is usually a fun show in itself.
A great case in point is him and Busch banging doors down the straightaway at Watkins Glen a couple weeks back. Not long after swapping paint with the brash, polarizing Busch, Wallace promptly dumped Busch’s No. 18 M&M’s car at the end of the straightaway. Radio communications between Wallace and his team let it be known he didn’t really care what Busch and/or NASCAR thought of what he did.
Wallace mingles with the fans, has adapted to Twitter and other forms of social media and with a little bit of success could bring in a new generation of fans. Even my son, who has no interest whatsoever in NASCAR, knows who Bubba Wallace is. With some success, maybe the younger generation of fans will come on board so the sport doesn’t continue to spiral down the drain.
Last, but not least, why not give up on the Brickyard?
As noted before, if it was any other track besides Indy there’s little doubt series’ officials would have pulled the plug already. Give Darlington back a second race, it’s definitely much more exciting from a fans’ perspective and off the record, most drivers would probably admit they’d prefer to run twice at Darlington as opposed to the single date at Indianapolis.
In other words, to make a long story short, the racing at IMS is boring to a fault for the most part, with a few exceptions there is no personality on the driver roster. The sport could use more Bubba Wallaces and Matt DiBenniditos.