NASCAR will run its annual race at hallowed Indianapolis Motor Speedway today. Whereas the Brickyard 400 once was the biggest of deals, it’s not such a big deal anymore.
Gas is $3.68 per gallon across the nation, and people don’t drive long distances to watch stock car races anymore. They won’t even drive to Bristol, Tenn., to watch, and NASCAR racing at Bristol is fantastic. It’s also pretty good at Richmond.
The stock car race at Indianapolis, on the other hand, has become lifeless and tedious.
Indianapolis was not built with stock car racing in mind. The stock cars look much too slow at Indy. It’s like running the wishbone with offensive tackles in the backfield.
This year’s Indy 500 produced a record 68 lead changes; the record at the Brickyard 400 is 26. Last year there were 16.
So the yawning grandstands will be half-empty today. It’ll look awful on TV, though the Dales and the Rustys in the booth probably won’t offer comment on the empty seats.
Perhaps outspoken Kurt Busch of Las Vegas would tell it like it is, but he’s been on his best behavior recently.
So it’s best left to A.J. Foyt, one of two lead foots to have won both the Indianapolis 500 and Daytona 500 (Mario Andretti was first), who told auto racing writer Robin Miller: “People like to see racing, as long as it’s good racing, and the Brickyard has never been very good. All in all, NASCAR doesn’t have good racing anymore. You watch the last 10 laps, and that’s about it.”
Now, you are more than welcome to disagree with ol’ A.J. But if I were you, I would do it quietly and under an assumed name — and not Carlos Danger, because that one already is taken. Though Foyt is 78 and has had a spate of health problems, he probably still can kick your gas can from here to Talladega.
Besides, as of Wednesday night, the big deal in NASCAR isn’t racing stock cars at Indy anymore. It’s racing pickup trucks on dirt.
Tony Stewart, the three-time Cup series champion, is sort of a younger version of A.J. Foyt (he even uses the same car number — 14) only with 5 o’clock shadow. People in NASCAR have learned it is much better when Smoke gets in your eyes than when he gets in your grille.
So after Stewart purchased Eldora Speedway, a famous half-mile dirt track in the middle of an Ohio cow pasture, it was decided to run a NASCAR truck series race there.
Racing those trucks on dirt sort of looked like Rocky Balboa taking Adrian ice skating: They’d take a couple of tentative strides, they’d bump into each other, they’d take a couple of more tentative strides, they’d bump into each other again. Only the Baby Crenshaw fight wasn’t mentioned.
It was the first NASCAR race on dirt in 43 years. A kid named Austin Dillon won. It was a lot of fun. It was so much fun that everybody in NASCAR is talking about it. Well, almost everybody.
Las Vegas Motor Speedway officials did not say a whole lot when I called.
LVMS president Chris Powell and his boss, track owner Bruton Smith, will chat this week. I am sure the prospect of racing pickups on dirt will come up, because LVMS already has a pickup truck race, and it already has a dirt track.
If LVMS was agreeable to turning the Dale Earnhardt Terrace into a driving range — the World Long Drive Championship will hold its finals at LVMS in October — and its infield into a giant mosh pit for the Electric Daisy Carnival, racing pickup trucks on its dirt track would be like putting peanut butter with jelly.
Choosy mothers choose Jif, and choosy track owners choose anything that can yield another buck.
Therein lies the rub, and rubbin’ is racin’. So is turning a profit.
The grandstands at Eldora hold about 20,000 spectators, huge for a dirt track. The LVMS dirt bowl can accommodate about 8,000; temporary grandstands could double the capacity. But you’d probably still need a sellout to break even after NASCAR takes its cut.
Sources at LVMS tell me the truck race at the big oval doesn’t exactly make money hand over fist, and there are a lot more seats at the big oval.
Perhaps two pickup truck races on dirt is one too many. And the Law of Averages would dictate Danica Patrick, another NASCAR curiosity, finishing in the points one of these days. Then people will be talking about her again, and buying her T-shirts, instead of talking about racing pickup trucks on dirt.
But for now, racing trucks on dirt is like playing hockey in a football stadium, or playing college football in a ballpark, or playing college basketball on the deck of an aircraft carrier. It was like racing stock cars was at Indy 20 years ago. It’s new and different and exciting.
It would create a buzz in the stands and a buzz in the beer lines. I’ll bet even ol’ A.J. Foyt would approve.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.