IRL: "Indy" Speedway closes gaps between fans

When the Indianapolis Motor Speedway added a NASCAR race in 1994 it created an opportunity to welcome new motorsport fans to the historic track. Contemporary fans have generally followed a particular segment of the sport, but with three major...

When the Indianapolis Motor Speedway added a NASCAR race in 1994 it created an opportunity to welcome new motorsport fans to the historic track. Contemporary fans have generally followed a particular segment of the sport, but with three major events at the speedway, longtime Indy 500 fans have been introduced to NASCAR and Formula One. In some cases the appeal of the Speedway has introduced NASCAR NEXTEL Cup fans to the Indy 500 too.

Cathy and George Baker are NASCAR NEXTEL Cup fans from Wilmington, Delaware. They're attending their second Brickyard 400 this weekend. "We have a core of four tracks that we never miss," said George. "We go to Bristol, Charlotte, Dover and Martinsville and then we add a couple of new tracks each year."

This year, attending the Daytona 500 for the first time was a special event for the couple. Mrs. Baker, invited to attend a corporate event at the Speedway, made her first trip to Indianapolis 500 this year, attending qualifying one week prior to the race. On the 10-hour drive home to Wilmington, she decided she would clear her schedule to make the long drive back the following weekend to see the 90th running of the Indianapolis 500.

"It was just awesome. I had so much fun I just had to go back for the race," said Baker, who is now hooked on the IndyCar Series. "The Brickyard is just not the same as the 500. The Brickyard is just another NASCAR race but the Indy 500 has a life of its own. It's alive and with the excitement in the air, it's so different.

"This was my first year but I'm a keeper, I'll be here every year."

"A lot of people compare the Daytona 500 to the Indianapolis 500," Cathy continued. "It was my first year for both. To me, there was no comparison, Daytona was just another NASCAR race too."

That comment drew a stare from Baker's husband, who said, "You can't beat the Daytona 500, it's a race onto itself. It's the best race there is."

"Indy 500," replied Mrs. Baker, as a minor domestic spat ensued.

Michael White of Solon, Ohio attended his first Indianapolis 500 in 1968. He stood with his father inside Turn one, clinging to the fence, straining to see the cars as they whizzed by in blazes of color. "I was hanging on the fence with my toes and my hands and I could hardly tell what was going."

Although his vantage point for that first race could have been better, White knew he was experiencing something special. Since his first Indianapolis 500 in 1968, he has never missed a single race at the Speedway.

When the Speedway added the Brickyard to the schedule, White thought, "It was a good idea," and he entered the lottery for tickets as soon as possible. "The fans are different," at the Brickyard," said White. "They're more enthusiastic about their drivers or their brand of cars."

White, who raced Formula Ford single-seater racers in SCCA National competition at Mid-Ohio, Lime Rock, Road America and Nelson Ledges, was "absolutely thrilled" when the United States Grand Prix was announced at the Speedway."

"Racing has been my passion since I was 12 years old, and the 500 is the biggest race in the world."

When the gates open in May for the 91st running of the Indianapolis 500, Michael White will be in the same Paddock Penthouse seats he has held for 30 years. The 2007 edition of the Memorial Day classic will be his 40th Indy 500. He'll be here for the Brickyard and if Formula One returns to the Speedway, he'll attend that too.

"If it's Memorial Day, I'll be in Indianapolis," White said proudly. "If it's here, I'll be here. If they add another race, I'll probably be here for that too."

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Series IndyCar , NASCAR Cup