July 17, 2010
By Guest Columnist Cathy Elliott
Travelers often mark their time on the road by using certain points of interest; state lines, for example, or favorite stops along the way.
Florence, S.C. is a great example of this. Frequent travelers of Interstate 95 know Florence as the halfway point between New York and Miami, making it an ideal place to stop for a while, take stock of the miles already traveled and speculate about the ones that lie ahead.
Now just barely past the halfway mark -- the Lifelock.com 400 at Chicagoland Speedway on July 11 was race number 19 of 36 -- the 2010 racing season is preparing to pull into one humdinger of a stopping point.
After taking a week off to rest, recuperate and, in the Johnson family’s happy case, get accustomed to having a new baby in the house, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will take up residence at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway July 23 through 25.
For most of us, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was probably the first big-time racing facility we ever heard of. As a child, before NASCAR and its drivers became regular and prominent daily features on network television, if you asked me for the name of an event, or a race car driver, the first words out of my mouth would have been "Mario Andretti and the Indianapolis 500."
There's a great story in the book "Bill France Jr.: The Man Who Made NASCAR" about his dad, Bill France Sr., who founded NASCAR. Mr. France, it seems, had worked at IMS as a young man and marveled, as millions of fans have over the years, at the sheer scope and grandeur of the place.
In the manner of competitors everywhere, the American Automobile Association, which sanctioned the Indianapolis 500, had developed a rivalry with NASCAR, probably wanting to stomp the offending little spark out before it had a chance to grow into the blaze of racing glory it is today. So much for that plan.
Mr. France and his wife visited the venerable speedway in 1954, only to be escorted from the premises. That's right; as inconceivable as it now seems, the Frances were kicked out of IMS.
That had to sting a little. The track in Indianapolis was, and is, famous. So famous, in fact, that it appears on the short list of people and places so monumentally well known and popular that they are instantly identified by a single word. Madonna. Daytona. Elvis. Gallagher. (OK, maybe not Gallagher.) And the Brickyard.
You have to accomplish something really big to become that famous, and the designers of the Brickyard took the concept of "building it bigger" to an entirely new level. Vatican City, the Rose Bowl, Yankee Stadium, Churchill Downs and the Roman Colosseum could all fit inside the 2.5-mile oval. This covers offensive and defensive strategies, gladiators, the occasional incident out of left field, horsepower and prayer. Throw in the national anthem and you have a pretty succinct description of a NASCAR race, when you think about it.
The reason opposites attract is that often when they get to know one another, they discover they are not so different after all.
That process can take time, though, and ultimately the Frances got the last laugh. Leaving (under duress) the home of what, to that point, was surely considered America's signature motorsports event, they headed back to Florida and soon started work on their own 2.5-mile track, the Daytona International Speedway, host of what is now known as "The Great American Race," the Daytona 500.
In 1994, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series racing made its debut at IMS. That contentious early rivalry spawned what has turned out to be the happiest of unions. The inaugural Brickyard 400 hosted the largest crowd ever to witness a NASCAR event, and has now become one of the most highly anticipated events of the entire racing season.
The winners’ list includes names like Earnhardt, Jarrett, Gordon, Elliott and Stewart. This year, a new name could join that list of notables, or a repeat winner could once again lower his face to those bricks to kiss his gritty but beautiful bride. Who knows?
It is said that the secret of a long and successful marriage lies in the ability to sing a duet and two solos at the same time. So regardless of the outcome, as they celebrate their 17th anniversary this year, fans can rest assured that NASCAR and the Brickyard are definitely still playing our song.
The thoughts and ideas expressed by this writer or any other writer on Insider Racing News, are not necessarily the views of the staff and/or management of IRN.