Once again, we’re not going to be too humorous this week. I hope our faithful readers will forgive me, but I was impressed by Mike Neff’s commentary on the Brickyard 400 in the Frontstretch Newsletter and felt the “other” races in Indianapolis deserved some mention.
For the first time since 2002, I made it back to O’Reilly Raceway Park at Indianapolis for the Kroger SpeedFest.
This event grew out of what was first called the Kroger NASCAR 200 on the .686-mile oval there. I’ve already told the story of how the late Bob Daniels went against the prevailing wisdom that NASCAR “wouldn’t work” in Indianapolis and brought the Busch Series in for the first time in 1982. They’ve been there ever since.
We did our best to grow that event, and I’m very proud of my involvement. The present team at ORP has continued to pour their efforts into it. They’ve continued one tradition we started in 1985, the skydivers bringing in the Stars and Stripes… even keeping the same accompanying music. I did notice that they landed in the infield instead of on the front straightaway, but I suspect NASCAR had a hand in that decision.
There is something of a humorous note to that story. One year Mark Schlatter, the first skydiver to do it, wasn’t told that we had stretched a TV cable across the track at the start/finish line. His risers caught on the cable, and Mark had a minor problem landing after swinging a couple of times. We asked if he wanted to land in the infield the next year, and he said, “No, just tell me about the wires this time.”
Our first flyover came later, with Indianapolis auto dealer Tom Wood bringing his P-51 Mustang in from the backstretch side and buzzing the old tower. He had done it the previous year during the U.S. Nationals, and came in from the north, going by level with the dragstrip scoreboards and having to pull up to clear the bridge.
In my opinion, ORP’s use of an Apache attack helicopter this year was much more exciting than any with jets that I’ve seen. He came in from behind the tower, and at Friday night’s Truck race it was a total surprise to everyone. The noise alone was spectacular.
Repeating the performance Saturday night, both times he pulled vertical and did what would be called a “wingover” with a plane, then came back across again at low altitude.
As for the racing itself, it proved to be outstanding all three nights. The USAC midgets (I hope they don’t prefer being called “little cars” now) and Silver Crown races produced lots of action.
Friday night’s truck race was a thriller from the start, and Ron Hornaday holding off Mike Skinner’s charge at the end of the event produced one of the most memorable finishes I’ve had the pleasure to watch.
On Saturday night, the action was just as strong. The crowd got caught up in Carl Edwards’s efforts to get around Kyle Busch in the last quarter of the race, and the roar when he finally got past was as loud as the “boos” when Kyle was introduced before the start. The fact that both of them had come from the back of the field after having someone else qualify their cars (they were in the final practice a few miles away) made it even more exciting.
While Carl was pressing Kyle, I happened to be listening to a team which was about to be lapped. The conversation was classic….
Spotter: “They’re racing two-wide for the lead behind ya.”
Driver: “I see ‘em. I’ll give ‘em room.”
Crew Chief: “I know a way we can pick up a lot of fans right here.”
The driver chuckled, and then moved over to let the top two settle it among themselves.
The next day, I watched the Brickyard 400 on TV. Let’s just say I think I’m safe in saying that all three races at ORP were better than the one at the big track…
So if you go to Indianapolis for that race, you owe it to yourself to take in the races at ORP. They’re worth the trip on their own.