Indy Speedway might get lights, pathetic NASCAR crowds


Swamp Buggy Racing at Indy would draw more fans than the Grand-Am Series did last Friday.

I was at the Speedway last Friday and Saturday. You said all along that the GRAND-AM and Nationwide cars wouldn’t draw a crowd. You were right. Question? Which had a greater attendance: this year’s Carb Day or the Super Weekend’s Thursday, Friday and Saturday combined? Mark in Carmel

Robin Miller I’d say that NASCAR’s “announced attendance’’ of 125,000 for the Brickyard is closer to the total for all three days with 6,500 on Friday, 20,000 on Saturday and maybe 75,000 on Sunday (that's only 100K Robin, not 125K). If there are 250,000 seats at IMS, every other one needed to be occupied to have 125,000 and at least four grandstands were closed so why try to kid anybody?

[Editor's Note: Suffice it to say Indianapolis has fallen out of love with the France Family products. Given the big purse payout, did IMS lose their shirt this year? Time for the Hulman George family to bring in the next gimmick to dilute IndyCar's popularity in their home shrine. Swamp Buggy Racing anyone?]


Near zero attendance and Jeff Belskus thinks the Grand-Am race was a success. More voodoo economics.

IMS boss Jeff Belskus appeared to miss on his Friday crowd projection of 50,000 — The Star's estimate was 15,000 — but he said Grand-Am is expected to return to NASCAR weekend in 2013.

"It met or exceeded our expectations, and I mean that on several fronts, not just attendance," he said Saturday. "It was a fun event, a good event, good racing." [Editor's Note: If that is the case Jeff, the race had to lose money so how much did the France Family pay you to run there and further dilute the IndyCar product? Of course it met your expectations if the France Family check was big enough.]

IMS got a bonus when IndyCar driver Sebastien Bourdais drove the winning Daytona Prototype to the finish line.

Belskus said Grand-Am could have two days of activity next year since the Nationwide Series likely won't need the extra track time it got Thursday.

As for talk that IMS is considering lights for night events, Belskus said there has been only preliminary discussions internally and that it's "unlikely" to happen for the 2013 season. Cost is a big issue.

"It's a lot of money," he said. "It might be as much as $20 million.

"It's not just (lighting the track). It's the grandstands, the parking, the infield. People don't realize how big this place is."

Saturday's crowd for Cup qualifying and the Nationwide race was approximately 50,000. Indy Star

[Editor's Note: 15,000 for Grand-Am and only 50,000 for Nationwide. So IMS must be getting paid by the France Family to allow Grand-Am and Nationwide to race there because with those numbers it's not even worth opening the gates – more voodoo economics. IMS prefers to let IndyCar's enemy into the Home of IndyCar rather than running a 2nd IndyCar race at the track each year which would 1) bring in more people than 50,000, 2) payout a purse to the IndyCar teams instead of giving their money away to the France Family who would just as soon see IndyCar dead. The blind leading the blind.]

07/28/12 Despite attendance struggles at the Brickyard 400 (now known as the Crown Royal presents the Curtiss Shaver 400 at the Brickyard) over the past five years, there’s no talk from NASCAR or Indianapolis Motor Speedway officials about discontinuing the race.

IMS officials said the commitment on both sides couldn’t be stronger for continuing the race long-term and making it stronger than it currently is.

“I don’t think either party could be more secure in its relationship with [the] other," said IMS spokesman Doug Boles. “There is no thought internally or within NASCAR that this race shouldn’t continue."

To bolster sagging attendance, Speedway officials are breaking new ground this year and may be willing to break even more ground in future years. For the first time, the IMS will host Grand Am and NASCAR Nationwide races over the weekend in conjunction with the Sprint Cup headliner on Sunday.

More radical changes could be coming. Speedway officials this week told IBJ that they have discussed installing lights at the massive facility—a project that would cost tens of millions of dollars—to allow races at night, particularly NASCAR events.

“Those types of discussions are more common now than they were even a year and a half ago," Boles said. “One consideration is it would allow us to get fans out of the heat of the day."

Erecting lights would be a major departure for Speedway officials, who previously have shunned the idea. IMS stands as one of the few major race tracks nationally without lights.

The Grand Am cars this year will race on the Speedway’s 2.6-mile road course Friday, and the Nationwide qualifications and race will be held Saturday. Saturday will also feature Sprint Cup practice and qualifications.

Speedway officials are confident that this year’s race weekend will see a10-plus-percent attendance increase over last year’s weekend line up. Much of that increase will be attributed to the two new races. The Nationwide race last year was held at Lucas Oil Raceway just to the west of IMS. This year the Nationwide race will get a big boost from former IndyCar driver Danica Patrick.

Racing industry experts think 25,000 to 35,000 people will attend the first Nationwide race at the famed Brickyard, and Speedway officials said 200,000 is a reasonable expectation for the three-day weekend. The average Nationwide race brings in about 20,000 fans.

NASCAR officials estimated that 140,000 attended last year’s Brickyard 400. This year’s ticket sales for Sunday’s headline race are tracking close to last year’s, IMS officials said, but they are hopeful that cooler temperatures blowing into Indianapolis will drive strong walk-up ticket sales and push attendance over last year’s Sunday total.

Facing a decade of attendance declines, IMS CEO Jeff Belskus told IBJ that a Brickyard 400 overhaul was one of his top priorities when he took over as Speedway CEO for Tony George in July 2009.

“In 2009, we sold half as many tickets as we did in 1999," Belskus said. “That’s a painful trend."

IMS doesn’t divulge attendance numbers, but NASCAR estimated 2010 Brickyard 400 attendance at 140,000. Attendance was 180,000 in 2009, 240,000 in 2008, and 270,000 in 2007. In 1994, the very first Brickyard 400 at IMS drew more than 300,000, according to NASCAR.

Despite attendance declines, Speedway officials indicated that the event is still profitable. An infusion of sponsorship support from Kroger and Crown Royal at this year's event should help keep the event financially healthy.

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