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Driven to the Past: Bob Daniels

I said last week I’d talk about Bob Daniels in a future column. This being Brickyard week, it seems like a good time. Actually, at IRP we used to call it “Kroger Week.” I met Bob Daniels when I was flagging for ASA and working full-time as a weekly newspaper editor in southern Indiana. He, of course, was the General Manager of IRP since NHRA had purchased it in 1979.

In 1984, while we were both attending an RPM session in Indianapolis, I gave him a resume. Shortly after that he called me and wanted to talk. He first offered me a part-time job as news director, and I jumped at it. I was still traveling on weekends, but for the past two years my shortest drive on an ASA trip had been from Scottsburg, Ind., to Clermont. I figured it was a good move. Getting home at 5:00 a.m. from Milwaukee or the Kansas City area and having to be in the newspaper office a couple of hours later had gotten pretty tiresome.

After three years of part-time work, he took me on full-time as director of news and administrative services. What that meant was that I was his fourth “go to” employee. The first was his wife, Eileen, the second was our safety director, Dan Brickey (now NHRA’s director of Emergency Services), and the third was the grounds superintendent at the time, Jeff Dakin.

Bob promised that he was going to be a tough taskmaster, and he wasn’t lying. There were many times I felt like killing him. He had a pretty harsh manner with those working for him, and it took a while to realize that you had to listen to what he was saying and not pay any attention to the way he was saying it, no matter how tough it was. Suffice it to say that a lot of us, myself, Dan and Jeff included, never realized just how much he was teaching us until he retired in 1991.

I’ll admit to being very teary-eyed when Bob passed away last year because I owe so much to what he taught me. Milt Hartlauf taught me the race officiating side of the sport, and Bob did his best to teach me the administrative side. He felt my experience on the track and in the newspaper office had been great training, and he was right. It seemed that I’d been training for that job all my life. However, one reason I want to make sure everybody remembers Bob Daniels this particular week is for the biggest thing he did at IRP.

Andy Hall, when he was in the PR office at NASCAR, touched on this topic in a story he wrote for their magazine, and it made me happy to see credit given for credit due. Maybe it’s just my opinion, but I believe Bob Daniels was, either directly or indirectly, responsible for the Brickyard 400.

In 1982, he decided he wanted to bring what was then NASCAR’s Sportsman division to IRP for a 200-lap race on the .686-mile oval. Knowledgeable and experienced racing people told him NASCAR wouldn’t work in Indianapolis. He secured a sponsor, Kroger’s Central Marketing Area, and persevered. The race – won by Morgan Shepherd – was a success, but not a blockbuster.

The event was still young when I came on board in 1985. Jimmy Hensley won it in the Thomas Brothers Country Ham car, but you could see it building. Except for the U.S. Nationals, it became the primary focus of our efforts each year, and before too many more years passed, we were having to put up temporary grandstands until we got to a point close to where it is now. Take a look at it on TV next Saturday night. Of course, the Brickyard 400 coming to town only enhanced the event, but it was well on its way before then. (At one point in the late ’80s, Bob was trying to convince Bill Jr. that a really good weekend would be the Busch Series on the oval on Saturday night and a Winston Cup race on the road course on Sunday.)

Kroger has remained on board, and is now the longest-running event sponsor in any NASCAR series, and probably in any series anywhere. I still maintain that there might not be a Brickyard 400 today if Bob Daniels hadn’t proven that NASCAR coming to Indianapolis would work.

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