SI's Ed Hinton reports from two speedways where the real battle
wasn't between the cars.
Indianapolis was a relative ghost town last Saturday, and things
were even less lively at Michigan International in Brooklyn,
where the erstwhile stars of the Indy 500 had fled, whining, on
orders of their team owners. None of this is surprising.
Indy-car racing is speeding toward ruin as a result of a war
between Indianapolis Motor Speedway president Tony George, who
is seeking to reestablish the Brickyard's sway over the sport,
and a powerful alliance of Championship Auto Racing Team owners,
led by Carl Haas and Roger Penske, which has controlled the
sport in recent years.
At the fore of the Speedway's motley field were three loyalists,
Scott Brayton, Davy Jones and 1990 winner, Arie Luyendyk, and
one bright novice fresh off the dirt tracks, Tony Stewart. They
all broke the one-lap qualifying record of 232.618 mph. But so
what? Absent was the juice from what had been, for decades, one
of the most electrifying moments in racing: pole qualifying for
the Indy 500.
The Indy crowd of 55,000 paled in comparison to the usual
250,000. Although the 80th running of the 500 on May 26
technically is sold out, the word is that ticket-scalping, legal
in Indiana, is virtually nonexistent. While in recent years a
$140 ticket sold on race day for $750, last Saturday's
Indianapolis Star quoted a scalper as saying, "At 10:30 on race
morning, you'll sit anywhere you want, under face value."
The rival U.S. 500 pole qualifying at Michigan International was
equally low-wattage. Fewer than 10,000 turned out to see three
less-than-household names--Jimmy Vasser, Adrian Fernandez and
Bryan Herta--take the front row for what the Indianapolis press
calls "the other 500." CART barons were already offering twofer
deals on tickets (buy one, go to their Detroit Grand Prix in
June for free). And some team owners were saying that they would
give away tickets to the rebel race, if that's what it would
take to fill up the track in the farmlands 70 miles west of
Detroit on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend.