Wednesday, August 3, 2011

How I Feel About The Brickyard 400

Being a native of Indiana and one of the few NASCAR fans who can form an articulate sentence and can say with absolute certainty that I have never kissed my cousin, the last week of July is typically a week that I spend doing a lot of explaining to people.  That’s because the last week of July is when the Brickyard 400 is held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and is therefore the time of year that all sorts of people over here in Ohio ask me if I’m going back home for the race and then look at me like I just pulled my testicles out of my pants and rested them on their forehead when I tell them “absolutely not.” 

Part of their disbelief comes from the fact that it’s no secret that I think the Indy 500 is the single most sacred event (sporting event or otherwise) in the world and that I’ve actually ended relationships with my friends and girlfriends when they didn’t want to accompany me to the race because they claimed that it didn’t appeal to them.  I’ve made it well-known that the Indy 500 is a really big f’ing deal to me, so people assume that because I actually prefer NASCAR to the IndyCar series, I must really be pitching a tent towards the end of July because I get to watch my favorite drivers race on my favorite track just a few miles from my hometown.  After all, the Brickyard 400 is essentially just the Indy 500 for NASCAR, right? 

The answer is of course not, stupid.  Much like Disney’s Doug and a deep fried hand job, the Brickyard 400 is a perfect example of how it’s entirely possible to put two otherwise great things together and create something far worse than the individual parts.

Let me first say that my disdain for the Brickyard 400 doesn’t come from me being some sort of traditionalist who hates the fact that the 500 isn’t the only race run on the sacred IMS track anymore, which is how some people in Indy felt when the Brickyard first started in 1994.  I’m perfectly fine with the idea of there being another race at IMS.  Hell, I’d be fine with there being a race every weekend at IMS so long as they all featured quality racing and a crazy party.  But that’s where the Brickyard 400 falls short and is really why I have such an issue with it – the racing sucks and the party is even worse.  On the surface, it seems like the Brickyard 400 has all the necessary elements to make for an awesome experience, but it only takes one trip to the Indy 500 and one trip to the Brickyard 400 to notice the vast difference and get the overwhelming feeling that, like a dry college campus or a prude supermodel, there are serious problems that completely outweigh any and all positives.

First let’s tackle the racing.  Now, I don’t pretend to be a racing expert and even though I’ve been watching NASCAR for as long as I can remember, I admittedly have no idea what the hell the commentators are talking about most of the time because my knowledge of the terminology is pretty limited.  Truth be told, I probably know more about elephants than I do racing strategy or the anatomy of cars in general (here’s proof: elephants have up to six sets of teeth in their lifetime and once their sixth set falls out, they die from starvation because they can no longer eat.  Also, did you know that if you just went to your local zoo and picked out any elephant at random, removed all of its organs including its trunk, and laid them all end-to-end on the ground, you would certainly get arrested and would probably spend a significant amount of time in prison?).

But despite my shortcomings in car knowledge, I am able to tell if what I am watching is boring or not.  Of course, some would argue that all racing is boring because it’s nothing more than a bunch of left turns.  And yet others would argue that this is all a moot point anyway because when I go to the IMS, I typically sit in the infield and don’t watch any of the race at all because I’m too busy slamming back a case of Bud heavies while trying to get trashy chicks to show me their goods.  But I’ve been to enough of these races to know how to pay attention to both the race and the Tweety Bird tattoo on the breast of some chain smoking lady in a tube top, so really that’s an invalid argument.  Besides, I went to a bunch of races before I turned 10 and started drinking and trying to get girls to flash me, and even back then I could tell that the Brickyard 400 just wasn’t getting the job done.

The fatal flaw with the Brickyard 400 is that the track simply wasn’t built for NASCAR cars.  Again, I don’t know much about car engineering or the science behind racetracks and whatnot, but even a Michigan fan could figure out pretty quickly that IMS has relatively no banking.  This lack of banking means that most of the entertainment at IMS comes from watching cars fight physics and try to make a turn going 200+ mph without much help from the track itself, which might be boring to watch on TV but I assure you is pretty nuts to see in person for the first time (and really every time).  This fighting of physics is exactly what the founders of the IMS wanted, seeing as how they built the track in 1909 primarily as a way to test the limits of high performance cars (fun fact: the guy who was in charge of building the track thought that cars wouldn’t be able to go any faster than 120 mph around IMS, so the fact that the modern day cars run at almost double that speed during the Indy 500 is pretty remarkable).

Anyway, my point is that the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was built and exists for one reason – to see how fast cars can go around it.  It was a track built to test speed and the Indy 500 does just that, which is why that particular race is so entertaining.  The cars are literally going as fast as the physics will allow them and if the drivers make even a fraction of a mistake, it could cost them a win (JR Hildebrand on the final turn this year) or in some cases – God forbid – even their lives.

The Brickyard 400, on the other hand, doesn’t provide that balls to the wall speed that the 500 does because NASCAR cars are built entirely differently.  NASCAR races, relatively speaking, are often predicated more on physicality than speed (at Indy, NASCAR cars average about 50 mph less than the open wheel cars do), so when they race on a track like IMS that was built solely to test speed, they go relatively slowly through the turns and the race turns out to essentially just be a parade of what appear to be elaborately painted refrigerators.  Plus, throw in the fact that NASCAR guys like to bump each other and IMS is most certainly not a track for bumping, and it makes things even worse because all that bumping results in a lot of crashes and caution flags (when people say they like crashes, what they really mean is they like seeing fiery crashes where the car rolls a few times and looks completely decimated when it’s all said and done.  Most crashes, though, are entirely unexciting and just drag out the race and make it even more boring).  Throw all of these factors together and what you’ve got is a race that can’t even sniff the jock of the Indy 500.

Of course, this is just my theory that I’ve established solely through years of observation.  I don’t have stats to back me up and I certainly don’t have any real knowledge of racing whatsoever, so there’s a good chance my explanation is way off.  Either way, the fact of the matter is that the racing at the Brickyard 400 just isn’t that exciting.  Regardless of why, there’s no denying that it’s pretty boring when compared to the 500.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s move on to the real issue – the partying (or more accurately, the lack thereof).  There are really only four words needed to explain why the Indy 500 party scene makes the Brickyard 400 party scene look like a Sunday morning trip to church with your grandparents – general admission infield tickets.  I’ve written about this before, but the infield at the Indy 500 is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced in my life (and yes, I’ve been to the Kentucky Derby), primarily because I’ve seen just about anything you can imagine short of rape and murder.  I’ve seen people having sex (I’ve even seen what appeared to be a 3-way), I’ve seen people doing hardcore drugs, and I’ve seen a woman try to piss in a busy men’s restroom by removing her jean shorts, propping her foot up to get a better angle, and pointing her vajeen toward the community urinal tub (admit it – you’re jealous).  It might be a typical Tuesday afternoon for Charlie Sheen, but for average people like you and me the infield at the 500 is mind-blowingly wild.

Why is the Indy 500 infield so rowdy, you ask? It’s simple – because it’s stupidly cheap and you can damn near bring anything into the track that you can carry.  This is really what separates it from the Kentucky Derby infield in my mind (not to mention the fact that horse racing can lick auto racing’s chode), since Derby infield tickets are more expensive and you can’t bring in outside food or drinks.  You can get a ticket for the Indy 500 infield for $30 and bring in a huge cooler full of food and beer (or if you’re like The Villain, stuff to make Cosmos).  Hell, for the 2010 race, I brought two kegs into the infield and tapped those bitches about 100 yards away from the track (it’s the only major sporting event I can think of that you can legally bring your own personal kegs to).  It’s essentially just a BYOB party with a $30 cover charge that 150,000 people are invited to and literally lasts all day, so there’s really no excuse for it not to be the most bitchingest party in America each and every year.

The Brickyard 400, though, doesn’t have these coveted general admission infield tickets.  I’ll say it again, this time using bold text to help emphasize what I’m saying: the Brickyard 400 does not have general admission infield tickets.  If that confuses the hell out of you and makes you think whoever is in charge of this decision should be immediately fired, you now have something in common with every 18-34 year old (white) male in the greater Indianapolis area. 

Now, it should be noted that you can buy a regular ticket with an actual seat assigned to it for the Brickyard 400 and walk into the infield and watch the race from there, but that completely defeats the purpose of the infield ticket.  Regular tickets aren’t as cheap as the infield tickets would be, so the poor white trash people that can afford to come party at the Indy 500 (and are typically the rowdiest people at the track) don’t show up for the 400.  As a result, the infield for the Brickyard basically just consists of legitimate race fans who have no interest in partying and just want to sit closer to the track to enhance their experience, college kids who think they’re cool because they’re drinking beer at a race at IMS and don’t know that the Brickyard is the JV race, and middle class people who don’t completely hate their lives like the poor people do and therefore don’t turn to drugs and alcohol as a way of coping with their failures.  So yeah, the party kinda sucks.

Basically, here’s the ultimate problem: In my opinion, the only way to make the Brickyard 400 as awesome as it should be and to make it a must-attend event is to sell the infield tickets.  But they won’t start selling infield tickets any time soon because they don’t even come close to selling all the normal tickets, so they’re obviously going to focus more on trying to figure out a way to get more people to buy the relatively expensive seat-assigned tickets because those tickets bring in more money for them than the infield tickets do.  But they’re never going to sell out of the normal tickets until the quality of racing improves.  But the quality of racing won’t improve because the track simply isn’t a good fit for those cars.  So really, the way I see it, the only way to improve the overall event is to completely change the type of cars NASCAR uses.  Obviously this can’t happen, which is why the Brickyard 400 seems like it’s on track (pun absolutely intended) to be a perpetual letdown.

And let’s not kid ourselves.  Even though I said earlier that I wouldn’t mind there being a race at IMS every weekend, that doesn’t mean that all of the races there should be treated equally.  Regardless of the quality of racing or the party scene, the Indy 500 is in a class on its own just because of the history associated with it, and there’s legitimately no way in hell the Brickyard could ever come close to being as big of a deal to the people of Indianapolis (the Brickyard is like the NIT final four – just because it’s being held at a historic venue doesn’t make it a big deal).  That in and of itself is enough for some to think that it’s sacrilege to go to IMS for a race at any time other than Memorial Day weekend because the experience is borderline laughable and it makes the Indy 500 feel less special (another reason why the Indy 500 rules – Memorial Day is a built in recovery day for the day after the race). 

For as long as I can remember, I haven’t been included in that group, but with each passing year it seems like I’m getting closer and closer to feeling the exact same way.

It goes without saying that you should feel free to call me out on anything I screwed up.  As I said earlier, everything I just wrote is based on nothing more than my own personal experience, which typically means I’m embarrassingly wrong.  So if I was way off with my reasoning for why the Brickyard just isn’t what it seems like it could be, by all means send me an email and put me in my place.  If your email has enough vitriol in it, we might even become pen pals.

Proud To Be An American But Even Prouder To Be A Buckeye,

Mark Titus

Club Trillion Founder