The crowd for Jeff Gordon's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Brickyard 400 win yesterday "appeared to be between 80,000 and 90,000, less than half the number who witnessed" Gordon's first win at the inaugural Indianapolis Motor Speedway in '94, according to Jim Peltz of the L.A. TIMES (7/28). In Indianapolis, Curt Cavin writes attendance was "reasonably close" to 85,000, but he "wouldn't be surprised if the count came in at 75,000 or 90,000." Cavin notes one reporter "estimated 65,000, and I think that's probably a tad low." But the "reality is, it's impossible to know for sure," as IMS is a "large facility and people are spread out, some on the infield mounds, some walking around, some arriving late or leaving early." There are "suites, too." Cavin also "estimated 30,000" for Saturday's Nationwide Series Lilly Diabetes 250. But a source said that an IMS official "told him 27,000" (INDIANAPOLIS STAR, 7/28). In Charlotte, Jim Utter wrote whether it is "300,000 fans who show up to watch ... or 100,000 or even less, it really doesn't detract from the race's meaning to drivers." IMS' "history and traditions remain in tact regardless of attendance or even if some seats are removed" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 7/27).
SIGN OF THE TIMES: In Indianapolis, Phil Richards wrote the Brickyard 400 in the '90s was NASCAR's "hottest ticket and biggest buzz." The stands were "full and the race rivaled" the Indianapolis 500. But it has been a "long, hard road for NASCAR." Of the 23 tracks on which its 36 points races are contested, 14 have "reduced permanent seating capacity in recent years, many significantly." But IMS "won't reduce seating significantly," as demand "is there for the Indy 500." IMS introduced a "range of activities this year, including concerts featuring seven country music attractions and improved fan access to drivers and the garage area." It also offered a "ticket package designed to make the race more affordable for families and to cultivate young fans." IMS President Doug Boles prior to this weekend's races said, "Where we feel we're making traction is with the casual NASCAR fan who's looking for more than just a race and that's one reason for the music this year" (INDIANAPOLIS STAR, 7/26). The L.A. TIMES' Peltz wrote many fans are "less enthralled with the Brickyard 400 these days, and that's a problem for NASCAR and the speedway." The first event in '94 was "so novel that more than 200,000" attended the event. But now the Brickyard 400 "draws half that many spectators." In a "nod to that drop, the speedway this year placed giant tarps over thousands of seats between Turns 1 and 2, and between Turns 3 and 4, rather than have television cameras showing swaths of empty grandstands" (L.A. TIMES, 7/27). In Indianapolis, Bob Kravitz wrote, "I'm still bullish on the Brickyard, the MotoGP, the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and, of course, the king of them all, the Indianapolis 500." But "let's be honest as we enter the third decade of the Brickyard here at IMS: The race is a snooze-fest. It's automotive Ambien. Has been for a long time." Fans are showing that "with their wallets." The event "ranks eighth in attendance among the circuit's 36 races," but as we "enter the 21st year of this event, it's obvious by the large swaths of empty seats that this race has lost a lot of its juice and novelty" (INDIANAPOLIS STAR, 7/27).
RETURN OF THE APRON: The INDIANAPOLIS STAR's Cavin notes Boles "confirmed weekend discussions with NASCAR officials and IndyCar participants about the return of the apron, which was removed following the crash-filled" '92 Indianapolis 500. Boles said that the "seven-figure expenditure was approved by the IMS board of directors last fall, but a final decision has not been made." The deliberation is "based on how the apron affects the Indianapolis 500." It was "removed to reduce the travel distance of a spinning car to the outside wall." But the invention and "installation of the energy-absorbing SAFER barrier, along with design changes to Indy cars, has made that less of a concern" (INDIANAPOLIS STAR, 7/28).