SIZZLE OR FIZZLE? No one seemed to know exactly what happened at the four day USAC midget extravaganza at 16th Street Speedway, billed as the richest midget race in history, some $140,000 being offered in prizes.
SIZZLE OR FIZZLE?
No one seemed to know exactly what happened at the four day USAC midget extravaganza at 16th Street Speedway, billed as the richest midget race in history, some $140,000 being offered in prizes. Every insider in the country knew about it. The editor of the major trade paper flew in from Charlotte for the event as did one of the major public relations managers for racing teams. Old timers abounded. Former great Leroy Warriner was in his seat all four nights, as was former NASCAR midget star and Indy 500 driver Bob Harkey. Former IMS President and ISC official John Cooper was in his seat and Thunder-in-the-Dome empressario Ted Hollingsworth attended with his wife Barbara.
The track was better prepared than ever before, thanks to the imported expertise of Tulsan promoter Emmett Hahn, a former driver who did an excellent job of repairing the upper portions of the course several times during the night and gave the drivers a good, wide course to run on.
Organizers Jim and Joan Voiles were all over the place, seeing to the needs of crashed cars, damaged fences, greeting friends, and hustling the show along. The racing was excellent but the four days were cursed with many spinouts and yellows and race delaying flips, fortunately no drivers were seriously injured despite some nasty contacts with the unforgiving cement wall and championship quality debis fence.
But from opening night on Thursday there was an air that something was missing. It wasn't race cars, there were over 90 of them, but the mega dollar purse only attracted 40 more than a standard USAC national race at 16th Street. It wasn't the race surface, it wasn't the stadium which is better than most any other in the country, and it wasn't the quality of the racing. What was it? The few people in the seats was mute evidence that something was wrong.
Now, the 12,000 seats at the old baseball stadium can be confusing as to apparent crowds, but there was no doubt that fewer than 1,000 souls arrived for the preliminary days and a survey of the house just before the finale when everyone would be in their seats a generous estimate would be about 3,500 people in all the seats.
Everyone you talked to could only shrug at why the fans did not turn out for this marquee event but most agreed it must have been the ticket price. The advertising and advance publicity did not reach beyond the race community and into the general population. If there were any ads in the paper no one saw them. It could have been the 100% reserve seat policy. Hoosier fans are known to disdain reserved seats. It could have been the restriction on personal coolers. It could have all the hype on the radio that "there were a few seats left for Saturday night."
But the general public did not show up at 16th Street Saturday night. There were a few but not many. The people there were hard core fans, pure and simple. The ones that came were generous. Over $3,500 was collected when drivers passed through the stands taking donations for Wisconsin driver Dean Billings. Casual fans had a choice and many of them chose a baseball game or other diversions.
What they missed was top quality racing by the best in the business from the American continent, plus Australia and New Zealand. Not one person had anything but acclaim for that.
Co-promoters Jim Voiles and Tony George deserved a better show of support from race fans no matter how far they had to drive. Weekly midget shows are hard to find across America. The attempt to re-establish a 16th Street tradition has met with great artistic success but the one at the banker's window has drawn a sorrowful 'tish-tish'.
Plenty of seed money sent the 16th Street rocket up high and straight but its got to have some arch in it to go into orbit. Hopefully it will stay up there for a while and not fall back to earth. The contract with the city is up this year and all those who learned to love the place are pacing and patiently waiting for the news about next year.
Len Ashburn, Indy