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The Fourth Turn
Author: Paul Gohde
July 23rd 2012 -

An experiment is taking place in Indianapolis this week that could one day determine the future of the Brickyard 400 Sprint Cup race.

For the first time since the IROC Series ran there in 2003, there will be multiple events at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway during NASCAR’s Kroger Super Weekend.  With GRAND-AM and Continental Tire Challenge sports car races scheduled for the road course on Friday, a Nationwide Series race on the oval on Saturday, and the Sprint Cup Crown Royal 400 on Sunday, NASCAR and IMS are hoping to attract a larger and more diverse crowd to the facility; and they’re betting that the crowd sticks around for the entire weekend.

The GRAND-AM series is a NASCAR-owned production, and the race is one that was added to beef-up the weekend’s schedule. The Nationwide event was moved to the Speedway from Lucas Oil Raceway after a successful 29-year run at the short track in suburban Clermont.

When a young Jeff Gordon captured the inaugural 400 in 1994, it created some of the loudest buzz in recent racing memory, with ticket demand at a record level for years after.  It was a curiosity to see stock cars on the iconic open-wheel oval, and even the two-day tests in 1992-93 drew large crowds.

However, attendance began to decline even before 2008 when a problem with tire durability on race day affected the competition and led to many fans failing to renew their once-coveted tickets.

The inability to see the entire track also began to wear on NASCAR fans who were accustomed to seeing the entire circuit on other tracks.  At the same time, the dreaded “aero-push” handling condition seemed to affect the cars, and passing became a problem that ultimately impacted competition.

Rumors have been circulating for years that the popular Nationwide (formerly Busch) Series would one day be moved to the big oval on 16th Street, and the move has met with some criticism since the event at LOR had been quite successful over the years.  The Clermont short track has also lost its Camping World Truck Series event, and will present ARCA & USAC races as prelims to the events in town.

So how will the added events at IMS draw, and what effect will they have on Sunday’s attendance?  To some, 80,000 fans at the GRAND-AM, and a similar number at the Nationwide race, will mark them as a success.  To others, those numbers will look lost in the spacious IMS grandstands and infield.

But NASCAR and IMS should be applauded for their efforts to resurrect a once popular event and infuse it with some fresh ideas for its 19th running.

Now, if we could only get them to run the Sprint Cup race on the road course, we might really have something.

NOTES:

•    The changeover of the track at the Speedway will be the first time in the track’s history that it has been switched from its road course configuration to an oval set-up on the same weekend.  Wednesday, over 250 haulers from the four series’ events will enter the facility.  Nationwide Series practice takes to the Oval on Thursday, as Rolex GRAND-AM and Continental Challenge sports cars begin tech inspection. Overnight, the 2.534-mile road course will be reconfigured for Friday sports car running. After the Rolex and Continental Challenge events on Friday, the process will be reversed for NASCAR oval track practice, qualifying and race events both Saturday and Sunday. All of this is to be accomplished by senior vice-president of operations Mel Harder and his hardworking crew.  “The biggest challenge will be for the GRAND-AM guys who will only be here one day,” said Harder.  “It will be a challenge for them to practice, qualify and race in one day.”  According to Harder, the effort will require miles of fencing, extra equipment, and a tremendous amount of manpower to move concrete barriers, fence panels and tires to make the conversion.

•    The Band Perry and several other country artists will headline a live concert at the Speedway prior to Sunday’s Brickyard 400.  Raul Malo, lead singer for The Mavericks, will sing the National Anthem.

•    Former Indy 500 starters Juan Pablo Montoya, Paul Tracy, Sebastien Bourdais, Eliseo Salazar, and Scott Pruett are entered in the 2.5 hour Rolex event, as are Boris Said, Andy Lally and Jamie McMurray.