Monday, July 27, 2009

No Place Like The Brickyard

BY SCOTT MORGANROTH

When my good friend Dan Parsont came by to visit me Sunday, this native New Yorker knew that he would get an earful of stories from me because of the tremendous amount of memories that I've had attending three races, several practices and qualifying runs at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS).

Even though New York City doesn't have a race, the Big Apple is host to the annual awards banquet.

I told Parsont that I've attended two Indy 500's and one Brickyard 400. I'll never forget the first time I went to the track in 1994. I maximized that experience as I drove six hours each way from Detroit to Indianapolis and spent an entire day walking the track and watching practice in preparation for the 75th running of the race.

The following two weeks, I went down for qualifying as Al Unser Jr. took the poll and on race weekend, my best friend George Eichorn and I saw Unser finish what he started by winning the race. Eichorn and I stayed about an hour away from the track because hotels were booked for the race. We had a chance to spend time downtown and watched the parade and saw an Indiana Pacers basketball game both on that Saturday.

Aside from Unser's success at Indy, I came away impressed with a Canadian rookie driver named Jacques Villeneuve, who finished second. The Brickyard is usually tough on young drivers but not this one.

In 1995, I spent four more weekends at Indy and on race weekend, my college buddy Stuart Bloom drove down from Minnesota for the race. We did find a place to stay near the race track and had a blast. In all my years of watching motor sports, I've never seen a driver have two years like Villeneuve. How do you top a second place finish the year before? You win the race and that's what he did.

My final race at Indy was when my ex-wife Susan and I went to see the Brickyard 400 in 1996. This was the third running of the event. Dale Jarrett won the race but the moment I remember the most was when Kyle Petty crashed into turn four, the ambulance attendants tripped on his pony tail and dropped him then had to put him back on the stretcher into the vehicle.

There will never be a shortage of stories at IMS. Then again, when a track has been open for 100 years, would there be?

I don't care what NASCAR fans will say about the tradition of racing in Daytona Beach.

There have been seven champions crowned after they won the Brickyard 400.

I've always found it interesting when Tony Stewart, John Andretti and Robby Gordon have made attempts to run the Indy 500 and the Coca Cola 600 in Charlotte on the same day.

This years Brickyard 400 saw plenty of former Indy 500 participants.

On Saturday, Max Papis failed to qualify for the race. But on Sunday, Tony Stewart finished third and has won this race twice. Juan Pablo Montoya led 116 laps but due to a speeding violation on pit road ended up losing the race to three time winner Jimmy Johnson. Robby Gordon finished 28th, John Andretti 32nd, and Sam Hornish Jr. finished 37th.

When Montoya was knocked out of contention to win this race and finished 11th, 19 year-old rookie Joey Logano, who replaced Stewart in the No. 20 car for Joe Gibbs finished 12th. I thought for sure Logano was going to get humbled by this 2.5 mile monster but he impressed me and proved me wrong.

As I watched this race, I was hoping that Jeff Gordon would win his fifth Brickyard 400 and if he didn't triumph that his teammate Mark Martin, who became the oldest pole winner for the event at 50, would prevail. Instead, he finished second.

But as I sat next to Parsont and asked him how many race tracks would be part of a golf course and have a couple holes, he just nodded his head and he seemed amazed at the venue.

Yet, Parsont and I talked about what event would be better to attend, an Indy 500 or a Kentucky Derby? We both agreed the Indy 500 because who would want to attend an event that lasts two minutes? I do hope that I can still see a Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs because it's still a great tradition but I'll always be partial towards the venue located at the corner of 16th and Georgetown.

While we'll never know whether the Indy Racing League will ever race at Daytona, I am confident that one day Danica Patrick will get her shot at the Brickyard 400. I've always admired Patrick's competitive spirit and she has engaged in a few shoving matches in her IRL career. But I do know one thing, Danica won't be shoving any of the NASCAR guys around and she does know that she'll be facing the best competition she's ever faced having to control a much heavier vehicle that she's not accustomed to handling.

No matter what event you attend at IMS which includes Formula One, anytime I see an overhead view of the facility, I do get chills down my spine and on this day, Parsont found that out. This is a spine that faced major back surgery on June 24th and figures to take as long as a year to fully heal.

Scott Morganroth can be reached at Scottsports33@aol.com

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