Today, NASCAR’s legacy at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway – the Brickyard 400 – turns 20 years old.
It reaches this milestone having secured a firm status as one of stock car racing’s most important events. And while its history is nowhere close to matching that of IMS’ crown jewel, the Indianapolis 500, it was still able to, for a time, supplant the ‘500’ as the most popular event at the world’s greatest racecourse.
But in recent years, the ‘400’ has appeared to lose favor with the fans. Multiple factors have combined for this, including single-file racing, brutal Indiana summers, and perhaps most damaging of all, the tire fiasco that turned the 2008 event into a disaster. Attendance has tumbled dramatically in a short span, and it’s been reported that today’s crowd could be the worst in ‘400’ history.
The Indy faithful, some of the most knowledgeable race fans in the sport, can’t be attacked for their indifference. They know that, racing-wise, this event pales in comparison to not only their beloved Indy 500, but a good portion of the other events on the Sprint Cup calendar.
However, we’re still talking about the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, or simply, the Speedway – and you better make sure that S is capital, because that’s the sign of respect you ought to give to a track that’s delivered so many memories.
The Speedway’s legend is very real, and every driver in the NASCAR paddock wants to be the one that adds to it every summer. They want to experience the indescribable rush of winning at Indy, to plant a slow, sweet kiss on the famous Yard of Bricks, to be able to tell their grandchildren, “I won at Indianapolis,” long after they’ve turned the final laps of their careers.
Crowd issues aside, the Brickyard 400 is still a race filled with prestige. And it’s still a race that is treated with respect by those who compete in it. This isn’t just another weekend at the office. They know that a triumph at 16th and Georgetown can put them among the sport’s greats, like Earnhardt, Gordon, Johnson and Stewart, all of them past winners of the race.
The complaints about stock car racing at Indy will likely never go away. Barring something truly seismic, the 2.5-mile oval is going to be what it has been for over a century. But there’s no doubt that in its 20 years of existence, the Brickyard 400 has created its own special tradition on the biggest stage of them all.
Let’s see what the next 20 years will bring.