|There is simply no track like Indy, cars race with spectators on both sides and of course|
nothing compares to the history at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Credit: Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR
The Brickyard got its nickname from the 3.2 million paving bricks that were laid on top of the original surface of crushed rock and tar. Throughout the years asphalt was added to turns and, by 1938, the entire track was covered in asphalt save the middle portion of the front straightaway. In October 1961 even that area was covered in asphalt, but a 36-inch strip of the original bricks was left untouched at the start/finish line. This is known as the Yard of Bricks and has been the sight of drivers’ kisses upon winning at the historic track since Dale Jarrett first laid his kiss on the bricks after his win at the Brickyard 400 in 1996.
Indy was the first Speedway, the first to be named as such a venue. With a seating capacity for well over 250,000 it is ranked among the highest-capacity stadium-type facilities in the world. It was constructed in 1909 by Indiana businessman Carl G. Fisher who first conceived of the idea while in France a few years earlier.
Europe set the bar for automobiles but Fisher felt there was a vast need to make testing automobiles – and racing them – safer and more satisfying to watch by patrons. Instead of watching a glimpse of a linear race, Fisher envisioned a circular track with seating for spectating.
Upon completion, Fisher’s oval became smaller than originally planned to make room for grandstands. The first event held at Indy was a helium-gas filled balloon competition, a couple of months before the facility was truly finished.
The first motorsports event was run by motorcycles but automobiles followed in succession.
It took a couple of years to work out some kinks, safety concerns, and the aforementioned brick pavers, but a 500-mile race was planned and executed at Indy over Memorial Day weekend on May 30, 1911. Approximately 80,000 fans showed up to the venue to watch Ray Harroun win the event.
From that day forward it was coined “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”
The Indianapolis 500 became a part of America’s fabric and watched around the world, first in newspaper reports, then newsreels, and eventually on television.
As I’ve reported many times, my father was watching the Indianapolis 500 since he was a child! I grew up in a home where that race was watched over Memorial Day Weekend annually.
But, I never considered myself an Indy fan in those days. I didn’t even realize then that the Indy 500 was actually one race in a series.
Once I became a NASCAR fan in 1990 I only knew that the drivers I followed did not compete on that fabled track.
Until one summer, the summer of 1994, they did.
The inaugural Brickyard 400 was the first race held at Indy that was not an Indianapolis 500. The event was the most well-attended NASCAR race filling the seats with about a quarter of a million people.
Rick Mast took the pole for that first running and a young phenom who was originally from Indiana, Jeff Gordon, won the race.
Adding another feather to his cap, Dale Earnhardt took home the second victory in 1995.
Over the years NASCAR victors at the Brickyard included Dale Jarrett, Ricky Rudd, Bobby Labonte, Bill Elliot, Kevin Harvick, Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson, Jamie McMurray, and last year’s winner Paul Menard.
Multiple winners include Jeff Gordon with four victories to date, Jimmie Johnson with three, Dale Jarrett with two, and Tony Stewart with two.
It is still a media spectacle when NASCAR descends on Indy. Crowds gather and drivers try to add this jewel to their NASCAR history.
Racing at Indy infuses an extra jolt of excitement and fierce competition to the NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit. It is a personal favorite and yet another reason why I love NASCAR.
Chief 187™ is a writer, columnist, and blogger as well as creator of the widely popular Chief 187™Chatter. Her column “Why I Love NASCAR” and other articles are featured on Skirts and Scuffs. She can be reached via Twitter by following @Chief187s. To find out more please visit http://Chief187.com.