Thursday, July 21, 2016

Gifts from Gearhead Heaven

God loves the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

I know this because he keeps giving the place a hand up just when it needs it, even though it sometimes doesn't seem like it. He gave the place Tony Hulman just when it looked as if it would fall into irreversible ruin. He gave it Wilbur Shaw and Bill Vukovich and Rodger Ward and A.J. and Mario 'n' them, replenishing the stock of marketable commodities every time the cupboard was about to go bare. And you think the joint survived the era of Brad Murphey the Racing Cowboy and Dr. Jack Miller the Racing Dentist all by itself?

Silly you. A celestial hand surely was behind that.

The same hand brought NASCAR to Indy just when NASCAR was becoming a national phenomenon whose outrageous success haunts it in these lesser days. (As for Formula One ... well, even God burns dinner once in awhile). And now that the shine is off that particular deal, look what the Almighty has cooked up now.

The Brickyard 400 -- a faded act that plays to half-empty houses these days -- is getting not just one, but two crowd-pleasing storylines this weekend. And at a time when even the weather (forecast is for highs in the mid-90s with heat indexes between 105 and 110) seemed to have conspired against it.

One, this is Indiana favorite son Tony Stewart's farewell turn at Indianapolis.

Two, this is Indiana favorite son Jeff Gordon making a nostalgia turn there, eight months into his retirement.

It's Smoke's last hurrah because he's stepping out of the car at the end of this season. And Gordon's back for a glorious coda of sorts because Dale Earnhardt Jr. is still out with concussion-like symptoms. And who better to step into the No. 88 this weekend than a five-time Brickyard champion who defines the entire arc of the event's existence?

It was Gordon, who grew up a dozen or so miles west of the Speedway, who won the inaugural Brickyard back in 1994, a perfect convergence of occasion and script. And it was Gordon who won again in 2014, 20 years later.

Now he'll come back one last time. And Smoke takes one last shot at a third Brickyard win. And a place that reveres history down to the genetic level will have two pieces of living history to flog.

And if one or the other wins? Or, even better, if they finish 1-2?

That'll really be some Hoosier Hysteria, if it happens. Which it likely won't.

I mean, come on. The Almighty's not gonna be that obvious.

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