Attendance up for Infineon IRL race UPDATE Wearing a Mount Tam Double Century bike ride T-shirt, Jaime Neilson, 29, of Fremont attended Sunday's race. He also attended this year's NASCAR race at Infineon. He enjoyed the NASCAR race more.
"NASCAR is three times better," Neilson said. "More cars. More passing. More action."
Neilson wasn't alone with his thoughts. With 20 laps left in the race, there was a steady line of cars leaving the back exit to the track.
[Editor's Note: And by the time the race was over the grandstands had lost 50% of the people, which is typically what you get when you give too many free tickets away and attract non-race fans.]
Too bad. They missed Helio Castroneves' big finish. Once he climbed out of his car after taking the checkered flag, Castroneves looked for the nearest fence to climb but couldn't find one tall enough to do his Spider-man pose. Instead, he pulled himself into the main grandstand behind pit row and jubilantly jumped among fans as if he had just hopped on stage as a "Price Is Right" contestant.
In the winner's circle, Helio should have changed his name to Helium. He was floating around on Cloud 9 and was so amped up that, when he sipped the ceremonial glass of red wine, you half expected him to chug it. Finally, Castroneves chased teammate Ryan Briscoe around the winner's circle with a spray from a bottle of champagne.
This is the kind of personality Indy needs to promote and exhibit. Yet its two most popular drivers - Castroneves and Danica Patrick - are better known for being a dancer with a two-step and a female with an attitude. More at Marin Independent Journal (local newspaper pans IRL race - does this surprise you? In a NASCAR market the local media almost always pans open wheel racing. Coincidence? We think not.)08/25/08 How big was the big Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma on Sunday at Infineon Raceway?
It depends on your point of view. Glass half full or glass half empty or, from the event's perspective, grandstands half full or grandstands half empty.
On the negative side, these are hard economic times and IndyCar racing still takes a backseat to NASCAR in terms of popularity. Though the main grandstand at Infineon Raceway was about 90 percent full near the finish line, there were rows and rows of unoccupied seats in the terraces and the fans didn't have much to root for on Sunday because it was not an extraordinary race.
"NASCAR is what it is," Infineon president and general manager Steve Page said Sunday. "This crowd here, we're delighted with. There's really only one day a year that this place is going to fill up."
Page said Sunday's Indy crowd, perhaps around 45,000 people, was actually larger than last year's. Advanced sales were up once the IndyCar Racing League unified with the Champ Car circuit earlier this year after a long and bitter split that confused, frustrated and divided racing fans. Let's put it this way: Indy car fans are trying to warm to their drivers nowadays like Giants and A's fans are trying to warm to their new players. In NASCAR, fans already easily identify their drivers by their names, car numbers, car models and car sponsors.
The big difference is IndyCar racing attracts a different demographic than NASCAR and that's not bad. Go to Infineon on Sunday and you would have seen things you may never see a NASCAR race here. Like a woman with her chainsaw. A couple of climbing walls in the infield. Kids stomping grapes. It caters to a more sophisticated racing audience. More collared shirts than red necks.
IndyCar racing is a different vibe and vibration. It looks and sounds faster and more powerful. IndyCar racing evokes speed and precision. NASCAR evokes duct tape and demolition derby and their cars will trade paint to pass, even on the tight road course at Infineon.
For Indy cars at Infineon, it's about as hard to pass as a semi-tractor trailer on a hilly two-lane road.
"I was lonely. Very lonely," said Tony Kanaan, who finished third on Sunday. "It's not stress. It's boring. Racing is about going fast, not going slow." Marin Independent Journal