INDIANAPOLIS – When the checkered flag drops on Sunday’s Brickyard 400 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the race itself will embark on a new era. The reason?
The two most polarizing, two most iconic names to not just the race, but to the entire state of Indiana in motorsports terms, will now have been gone.
Last year, was Jeff Gordon’s final laps around the historic track, and now maybe again this year too. But, it will also be Tony Stewart’s final Indy start as well. Both are Indiana’s own. Both are the hometown heroes and in an era since the early 90s through now, both have trumped the Earnhardt name at Indy.
Yes, Earnhardt sells tickets almost everywhere NASCAR goes, but in Indy, it’s Gordon and Stewart who put butts in the seats.
Most tracks don’t gravitate to a driver, or drivers in this case, like the Indianapolis Motor Speedway does to Gordon and Stewart. They’re truly icons and honestly when the Brickyard 400 is in town, it’s like a home game for them. Most of the crowd is either cheering for one or the other, as the biggest reason for the Brickyard’s success in Indy is because of these two.
Now, the race will face life after Gordon and Stewart, as none of the two will be in the race in 2017. That gives IMS and the race in general an identity crisis.
What hurt this race the most recently, is that the state of Indiana has turned back into an IndyCar state. Really from 1996-2009, the Brickyard 400 trumped the Indy 500 for supremacy in the circle city. But, since then, the tables have turned back into IndyCar’s favor and it’s not even close.
The crowds for the Indy 500 have steadily increased as they’ve ranged from 275,000 up to over 400,000 from this past year’s race. The Brickyard though has steadily decreased as there were no more than 70-75,000 people at the race last year.
For comparisons sake, Carb Day in the Month of May has drawn more people recently than the Brickyard.
The heyday of the Brickyard is gone, so is the luster. Now that two of Indiana’s own are going to be retired, what does that do to the already diminishing crowd?
The heat this year isn’t going to help either, as the race is going to go in a new era really starting next week, and it’s a critical one.
The race isn’t in jeopardy right now as due to the TV deals, the track makes millions upon millions even before a single race fan comes through the gates. So, as long as that deal is in place, this race isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
But, what do they do to keep fans coming through those gates now that two of their fan favorites are going to be gone?
That’s why this race is going into a new era.
Between the two, through the first 22 races at Indy, they won seven of them. They had the most success out of anyone. Now, they’re gone leaving no one to fill the void.