Thursday, July 20, 2017

The heat is on

The memory is blurry now, and not because all memories tend to blur with time. This one's blurry because sweat keeps running into my eyes, and I keep swiping at them with the back of one soggy hand, and, damn, this sun and that humidity and all this concrete is baking us like a cookie in a convection oven.

Some late afternoon at the Brickyard 400, 20 years ago, maybe. Some race day, waiting back here by the haulers while sweating crew members load up the cars and we stand in a melting little huddle waiting for the occasional driver to wander through.

Thus has it ever been on Brickyard day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, because it's high summer and it's always 90 degrees with 70 percent humidity that weekend, and the Speedway gets hot like few places get hot, anyway, but especially in July and August. Heck, even an old pro like Bill Elliott was heard to bitch about the heat one particularly oppressive afternoon. And Bill Elliott's from Georgia.

So I completely get why Speedway president Doug Boles has decided the Brickyard 400, which runs again this weekend, will move to September next year.

Where his own vision gets blurry is when he says they're doing this because the heat is what's keeping all the fans away.

As someone who covered 20 Brickyards, and who remembers what every one of those race weekends was like, I respectfully call bullpucky on that.

Look, it's always been hot at the Speedway on Brickyard weekend. Always. It isn't any hotter now than it was 20 years ago, because I remember how hot it was 20 years ago. I also remember seeing north of 200,000 fans packed into the joint despite all that heat.

So it's obviously not the heat that's keeping anyone away.

But if you're the president of the Speedway, you have to blame the fall of one of you signature events on something, so you might as well pick something you can fix. It beats having to admit that what's wrong with the Brickyard is something you can't fix, because that would mean admitting what's wrong with the Brickyard is out of your control.

And it is, mostly. Sadly.

It is, because what's wrong with the Brickyard is a microcosm of what's wrong with NASCAR, which is mostly a perception issue. The sport simply doesn't draw the way it used to, at Indy and everywhere else. That it's still the most successful motorsports enterprise ever to run on the American continent is a fact that eludes its leadership, because its leadership is still measuring it against the ridiculously unsustainable, success of the late '90s and early 2000s.

And, yes, the Blob has said all this before, numerous times. It's also said, numerous times, that the bloom came off the Brickyard rose after the Tiregate debacle of 2008, and more generally after spectators discovered that NASCAR at the Speedway simply isn't a very good show.

Thus the crowds have dwindled from 200,000 to something around 50,000 or 60,000. Which, mind you, is the kind of crowd that would have set NASCAR to popping champagne corks back in the days when it was still a quaint regional phenomenon and not the vast corporate enterprise it blew up into. But now all those empty seats are just an embarrassing visual, and the Brickyard is just another NASCAR weekend instead of the crown jewel it once was.

The heat didn't do that. The fact it's a boring-ass race did.

I'm not sure how Doug Boles can remedy this, other than to get the event off the oval and run it on the infield road course (a suggestion the Blob has been making for years). Absent that, what are the Speedway's options?

Move it to September. That's the only other option.

September, when presumably it will not be as hot.

September ... when it will be more invisible than ever in the gargantuan Sunday shadow of the NFL.


1 comment:

  1. It it isn't any hotter than twenty years ago? Global warming? Spot on analysis, though. Good story in today about Bryan Clauson and Ricky Stenhouse.