The Racing Capital
of the World
July 30, 2012 | By John Oreovicz
The Kroger Super Weekend at the Brickyard was the kind of event that makes me feel proud to be a resident of Speedway, Indiana.
Don’t get me wrong – I am on record as not being a fan of NASCAR racing, and like many, I remain disappointed that the Nationwide Series dropped its longtime race at O’Reilly Raceway Park in nearby Clermont in favor of a 250-miler at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It’s too bad NASCAR couldn’t find a way to keep ORP on the schedule in addition to adding a race at the Brickyard.
But for the Town of Speedway – which claims many direct links to IMS and track founders Carl Fisher, Frank Wheeler, James Allison and Arthur Newby – the Super Weekend was a big hit.
The Hauler Parade on Thursday evening is a case in point. It’s family friendly, great for kids, and just an excellent way to announce that NASCAR has arrived in town. My son really enjoys seeing the shiny trucks parked on Main Street, and we especially enjoyed the activity between 13th and 14th where a bluegrass band played outside Linder Fuel Injection. At the end of the evening, I had a hard time getting my boy out of the bounce house that IMS thoughtfully set up in the municipal parking lot across the street from Dawson’s.
Last year, I took my son to the Rolex 24 endurance race at Daytona International Speedway, and he claimed to become a fan of the Daytona Prototypes (Frankly, I think he just enjoyed the spectacle of night racing…). So he talked for months about watching the Grand-Am cars at Indianapolis. And one of the great things about living in Speedway is that when the 6-year old inevitably got bored, we were able to walk home and watch the end of the race on television.
Some people seemed happy to see Danica Patrick return to IMS on Saturday, though it must be said that an even greater number of schadenfreudists were delighted when she crashed out of the Nationwide race. Hard to believe that Brad Keselowski’s victory was the first stock car win for Roger Penske at Indianapolis, to go along with Penske Racing’s 15 Indianapolis 500 triumphs. And as an Indy car loyalist, it was great to see Sam Hornish post a solid second place finish; almost five years after turning his back on the IndyCar Series, he finally seems to be getting the hang of stock car racing and I hope he makes the most of his opportunity subbing for the suspended AJ Allmendinger in Penske’s #22 Sprint Cup car.
As for the Brickyard 400 itself, what can you say? By Brickyard standards, it was a reasonably entertaining 42-car race. Congratulations to Jimmie Johnson, Chad Knaus and Hendrick Motorsports for elevating themselves above the rest of the field.
Johnson takes a lot of flak from NASCAR fans for being boring and bland, but you’ve got to be blown away by the guy’s consistently excellent performances on the race track. I was also impressed by Johnson’s post-race demeanor Sunday, when the importance of becoming a four-time winner at Indianapolis elicited an emotional response from the 35-year old Californian.
You see, two of Johnson’s role models or heroes are already four-time Indy winners – Rick Mears in the Indianapolis 500 and Jeff Gordon in the Brickyard 400.
(It should be mentioned at this point that Michael Schumacher won the Formula 1 United States Grand Prix on the IMS road course five times, an oft-forgotten fact when discussing the small group of 4-time Indy winners – Mears, AJ Foyt and Al Unser in the 500, and Johnson and Gordon in the 400.)
Johnson was visibly choked up in his post-race television interview with Vince Welch.
“It’s neat just to race here,” Johnson said. “To come here and win is such a huge honor, and then to have four…four wins! I’m lost for words. It was a total team effort and we put it on ‘em today.”
Addressing comparisons to Mears, Johnson said: “Man, it’s wild. And Gordon as well – I looked up to him. It was really wild for me getting my start driving a Cup car for him. To tie both those guys and what they accomplished…again, I hoped to come here just to race. I had no idea it would turn out like this."
“I can remember back to watching the 500 with my grandfather and my dad, sitting on a couch watching the 500 take place. My grandfather told me stories about Indy; that he came here and was at the racetrack. I’m glad to have my own memories here for my family.”
I know that memories are a big part of why so many people hold the Indianapolis Motor Speedway near and dear. And I’m hopeful that many years from now, my young son will look back on our times attending races at the Speedway – whether for Indy cars, stock cars, F1 cars or motorcycles – with the same kind of fondness that I recall.
I’ve been going to the track since 1976, and IMS is the biggest reason my life took the path it did. It’s why I moved to Speedway, Indiana, a five-minute walk from Turn 1.
It’s a great place to raise a family. Especially if you’re a racing fan.