Disputes making for rocky Brickyard debut

August 04, 1994|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Sun Staff Writer

INDIANAPOLIS — Indianapolis--No one thought it would ever happen: A Winston Cup stock car race on the storied Indianapolis Motor Speedway. But, on Saturday, The Brickyard 400 will see dream turned into reality.

"The Brickyard" is the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and it has been the domain of Indy cars ever since Ray Haroun won the first 500-miler there in 1911.

The Indianapolis 500 has for decades been the largest one-day sporting event in the world. Saturday, when the Winston Cup stock cars run for the first time here, the Speedway will add to its racing lore by playing host to the second-largest one-day sporting event in the world.

The Speedway, which has close to 300,000 seats, has been sold out for a year. Officials say they had to turn back three of every four requests they received for this race.

"The driver who wins this race will go down in history like the first man who walked on the moon," said legendary Winston Cup car owner Junior Johnson, who will field the cars of Bill Elliott and Jimmy Spencer among the 80 entries.

Saturday, the best of professional stock car racing will start their engines on Indy's front straight and begin their own flight into history.

Just where it fits into stock car racing's 45-year history is an open question.

Stock car racing has had perhaps four or five defining moments during those 4 1/2 decades:

* The first super speedway race at Darlington, S.C., in 1950.

* Richard Petty's father, Lee, winning the first Daytona 500 in 1959.

* The marriage of stock car racing with the R. J. Reynolds Co. and its Winston brand of cigarettes in 1971.

* The 1979 Daytona 500, the first Winston Cup stock car race broadcast live on national television.

* Bill Elliott winning the "Winston Million" the first year it was offered in 1985, by winning all three of the sport's crown jewels (Daytona, Winston and Southern 500s) in the same season and landing on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

How The Brickyard 400 fits in won't be known for a while, but this will be the Winston Cup series' first foray into the Midwest. And it should be quite a show.

Of the 80 entries, 44 can make the field. Forty will qualify on the racetrack today and tomorrow, while four additional starting spots also will be available: two will be provisional starting positions for two teams on the Winner's Circle program, another will go to the Winston West points leader -- should he fail to qualify -- and the fourth is available for a past Winston Cup points champion.

The race will be broadcast live by ABC at noon.

Some of the biggest roadblocks to staging this race were the egos of Speedway officials and NASCAR officials. The two groups dictate within their respective kingdoms.

In Winston Cup racing, NASCAR and its president, Bill France, make the rules and change the rules as they see fit to keep competition at its best. At Indianapolis Motor Speedway, it is president Tony George, his staff and the U.S. Auto Club who always have told the IndyCar teams competing here how they will run, what they can run and everything else they can do -- no matter what their sanctioning body, IndyCar, says elsewhere.

This time, NASCAR will run the event and qualifying, but much to the irritation of many involved in Winston Cup racing, it is the Speedway that will control everything else.

Restrictions at Indianapolis Motor Speed way have grated against a number of NASCAR drivers, car owners and broadcasters. Everything from souvenir sales to radio broadcasts to spots for teams' motor homes evidently have been contended.

Because Indianapolis has its own radio network, no other radio networks are being credentialed, not even Motor Racing Network, NASCAR's week-in, week-out carrier, although MRN broadcasters Mike Joy and Ned Jarrett have been hired by the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network to serve as play-by-play announcer and analyst on the planned 11 hours of air time, covering qualifying, call-in talk shows, pre-race and race coverage.

On the driver and team level, several are in a huff over Indy regulations that would charge $1,500 for a team's motor home in the infield and then allow access only from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. The track officials also are insisting that the teams buy all food from a catering company that has the contract with the Speedway.

The catering demands caused IndyCar teams equal consternation in May when team sponsors were denied the right to bring in their own chefs for their traditional high-brow menu.

"Ninety percent of the time, I take my family with me, and we stay in our motor home in the infield," said Winston Cup points leader Ernie Irvan. "But this is ridiculous. They even said we'd have to buy our baby's food from their caterer. Unbelievable. I'm leaving my trailer home, and my family will eat what they want to eat."

Speedway officials deny that they would insist on supplying baby food and formula, but as for the rest, any food for entertainment purposes must be provided by the track caterer.

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