Thunder at the Brickyards
J. Chris Tilton
When my buddy called and said he had an extra ticket to the Brickyard 400, it was a surprise. I had visited Eldora Speedway many times in my youth. But I had never been to a nascar race. So I was not sure what to expect. The price was right - free, so I definitely wanted to go and see what all the talk is about with nascar. It is one of the most popular spectator sports in the US and as I found out, the fans are loudly loyal to their favorite drivers.
As it is with many events, there is more than just the race. I was told to leave early and was glad we did, the traffic was heavy as we got close to the track. After parking, we walked into an ever growing stream of people. To get to our gate, we had to go down Georgetown Road which runs alongside the track. The length of the street was like the midway of the fair. Food vendors, manufacturers tents, games, and so forth were set up along side the street. Helicopters were in the air and limousines were dropping off VIP's. There were street vendors selling everything from sunglasses to tshirts. It was almost a carnival like atmosphere as we weaved our way thru the throngs of people.
For those who have not been there be forewarned, the seats are bench style seats - no backs. And there is no shade, but we had been told to bring something to drink. Our cooler with gatorade and pop lasted the afternoon. They have good concessions at the speedway, but they are stadium priced. And they did run out of the frozen concessions at our grandstand towards the end of the race. The sun was steady and with all the yellow flags (a record 11 yellows) the race was lengthened. So that explained why they were running low on anything cold. The speedway did make a nice investment for the fans, they installed jumbo-trons at strategic locations around the track. So when something exciting was happening in the pits or at the far corner of the track - we could see it real time on the screens. Pretty cool, I thought.
Before the race they did a parade of the drivers. Actually put them in back of pickups and did a lap for the fans. You could tell the more popular drivers by the applause and shouts of their fans. And you could tell when someone was disliked (Tony Stewart) and when they had both fans and detractors (can you say “Jeff Gordon”) - a mixed chorus of boo's and applause. I was not ready for the start. The cars did a few parade laps - the cars weren't too loud and weren't going too fast. Then they got the green flag. We were in turn three, where the cars come thundering down the straightaway. You could feel the vibrations in the stands and it was incredible the speed at which the car's zoomed by. I guess you can get a lot more momentum on the long Indianapolis straightaways than the short dirt track of Eldora. What an incredible experience. Later we walked down the straight away by the golf course. You can get even closer to the track there. It is quite a feeling to be 10 feet away from vehicles hurtling by at over 200 miles per hour.
The leader board in the infield made it easy to keep track of who was in first. And when Jeff Gordon got the lead for the first time there were some audible groans in my section. The real battle was for 2nd, 3rd, and 4th. Gordon was running too strong. The yellow flags allowed the 2nd place racer to close the gap, but once the green was dropped, Gordon got a healthy lead again and maintained it. Every yellow you watched to see if someone could catch and overtake Gordon, but he pulled away every time.
All in all it was a positive experience. It was awesome to be so close to that much horsepower going so fast. Any fan needs to make the trek at least once. If I had to point out an area for improvement it would be the seating. I know it would take an incredible amount of money, but the tickets in my section were $75 a pop. How about a real chair? That probably won't happen in the near future, because they will be repaving the track this fall. That will be an investment for the drivers. Other than seating, I thought that the organizers did a great job of putting on a race. It is something worth doing - at least once. Info about the Brickyard 400 can be found at: <http://www.brickyard400.com/>