Big day at the Brickyard

Published 9:51 pm Saturday, July 25, 2009

I was sitting in a popular local hangout a few days after the race at Chicagoland – with the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series having last weekend off – when someone asked me where the next race was going to be. So I told them we were headed to The Brickyard.

My favorite server, hunkered down over a plate of buffalo wings at the time, looked up from her food and said, “Oh, that’s a big one. We should have a party.”

If you’re thinking there’s nothing special about that comment, I need to point out that I’ve known Stephanie for a while now. She knows what kind of work I do, and we have talked about lots of different things. But I have never heard her offer an opinion on NASCAR. Not once.

This indicates one of two things. Either I’m not doing my job properly, or even the most casual fans realize the significance of NASCAR racing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. In the interest of job security, I’m going to assume that option number two is the correct answer.

This is somewhat surprising. NASCAR fans are a rare breed. We like to wrap our arms around the past and hold it close. Some folks still haven’t accepted the fact that Richard Petty isn’t racing anymore, or that Toyotas are successfully competing in all three of NASCAR’s top series.

Racing’s past is something to be celebrated and respected. It is filled with great stories worthy of being told and retold. But the main problem with the past is that we no longer live in it. We can’t bring it back, no matter how hard we try.

It is said that just as surely as change will always come, people will always resist it. It does seem, though, that in the case of NASCAR racing at The Brickyard, a bridge has been successfully built. The addition of this particular race to the Sprint Cup Series schedule is perhaps the only major change NASCAR has made in recent memory that I have never heard one single person complain about.

Of course, IMS knows a little something about history, and NASCAR fans respect that. The track known as “The Racing Capital of the World” broke ground in 1909, meaning it is celebrating its centennial this year. It was the first speedway to ever call itself a speedway; that’s how old it is.

The Brickyard is to motorsports what the Old Course at St. Andrew’s is to golf, or what Chuck Berry is to rock and roll.

The track injected itself into NASCAR before stock car racing as we know it today even existed. The construction of Darlington Raceway – NASCAR’s first-ever paved superspeedway – was inspired by the eventual builder’s attendance at the Indianapolis 500. What he saw there gave him the vision and desire to create something comparable for stock cars to compete on. The rest, literally, is racing history. At least in part, we have IMS to thank for that.

A popular talk radio topic revolves around the Triple Crown theme. If NASCAR had a triple crown, what would the three races be?

The consensus always seems to list the Daytona 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 in the top two spots. Opinions fracture somewhat from that point. The Southern 500 always garners a few votes, as does the night race at Bristol and anything at Talladega. Increasingly, however, the Allstate 400 at The Brickyard gets the nod as the third jewel in that crown.

We will remember who won this race. The image of him kissing those bricks will be burned into our minds. We won’t care if he slugs down a bottle of milk before enjoying a Coke or some Gatorade in Victory Lane. Some events are greater than the sum of their individual parts, and this is one of them.

Stephanie didn’t even realize it, but she was right on the money. This is truly a big one, and a good reason to have a party. A very good reason, indeed.