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Brickyard 400 fights to stay vital despite racing’s downturn

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As I look back on the Brickyard 400, it’s hard to imagine that I have attended all 21 races.

The only races that distinguish themselves are the first one Jeff Gordon won and the two Tony Stewart won.

The sad truth is indifference is replacing the passion that helped to fill the grandstands each summer. Many can remember the lotteries used to dole out those first precious Brickyard tickets. We also can remember the inflated prices on motel rooms.

This year it was probably easy to get tickets at a discount.

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway has no monopoly on the failing fortunes of auto racing. Tracks that have routinely sold out such as Daytona (Florida) International Speedway and Bristol (Tennessee) Motor Speedway now routinely have seats available.

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway probably is as well managed as any track in the land, and it has been proactive in its effort to give its events value to the race fans. The track has tried to strengthen the Indianapolis 500 by adding the Grand Prix of Indianapolis to the program. In addition, the track changed its qualification procedures so its premier Indy Racing League cars spent more time on the track.

To bolster the Brickyard 400, the NASCAR Nationwide Series race was moved from Lucas Oil Raceway the night before the Brickyard to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway the afternoon before the Brickyard. The event was wildly popular when it was conducted at the Lucas Oil Raceway 5/8-mile, and seats were added in attempt to fill the demand.

In years past, Lucas Oil Raceway also hosted a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race. For now, that race resides at Tony Stewart’s Eldora Speedway, and that seems to be a winner. I’ve received more favorable comments on the past two truck races on the dirt than on the past two seasons of truck races combined.

Lucas Oil Raceway retained the JD Byrider 100 Silver Crown race and bolstered it with an ARCA stockcar race. They should be commended for salvaging as much of a program as they did when faced with Indianapolis Motor Speedway muscle.

In addition, IMS has upgraded programs by adding other entertainment, particularly concerts.

Most of this represents the speedway’s efforts to overcome things it can’t change. It’s a tough sell to get fans to fight traffic and buy tickets and motel rooms to watch a race they could probably see better on TV.

Winged races take off

The winged races at the Knoxville Nationals on Wednesday through Aug. 9 are as good as you’ll find anywhere. However, the racing is only a part of the attraction.

I attended the Nationals for years, but after they went to winged racing, the racing wasn’t the main attraction. The community, the people at the track and the competitors made the trip worthwhile.

Knoxville, Iowa, is somewhat smaller than Seymour. Aside from sprint-car racing, the primary industry is agriculture.

The secret to success of the Knoxville Raceway is the support that they get from the community. Rather than raising their prices to take advantage of a captive market, local restaurants offer specials. The merchants have sidewalk sales. The local Chamber of Commerce maintains a system that refers to area residents willing to rent rooms to race fans. I was referred to a couple who rented their entire house to race fans. As it turned out, most of the people staying there were return customers.

One driver has dominated the Knoxville Nationals over the years. Steve Kinser of Bloomington has won the Nationals 12 times. Donny Schatz won the Nationals seven times. This means that Tony Stewart drivers account for 19 Knoxville Nationals championships.

Going into this year’s Nationals, Schatz leads the World of Outlaws points by 83 markers over Daryn Pittman.

Tim McKinney writes a weekly racing column for The Republic. He can be reached at 379-5632.

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