Super Weekend – Did IMS Really Lose Her Virtue: A Mother’s Story
The purists at Indianapolis Motor Speedway shake their gray heads and mutter to themselves whenever the topic of other series racing at the stately matron at 16th and Georgetown comes up. The purists, like the children of a widow, want their wealthy and popular mother to act her age. They see the Indianapolis 500 as their father, whose sainted memory should be forever put on a pedestal, so his adoring family – presumably dressed in frock coats, vests, and cravats – can genuflect at his spatted feet. The future? Godfrey Daniels, my good man, we here in Indianapolis live firmly in the past. They believe Mother IMS should stay home and entertain her old friends at afternoon tea. Well, guess what? Mother snuck out the back door while they were trying to decide what was best for her.
And luckily for racing fans she did. The old gal refused to be put out to pasture because others knew what was best for her. She took off those gray rags and those hideously sensible black shoes and put on leopard print stretch pants, stiletto heels, and the brightest red lipstick she could find. But you know how people talk. Mama Indy had some, how do we politely say it, “gentlemen callers.” The first was that France boy from down south. He wooed her with promises of more money and prestige, even though he was what we call nouveau riche. His family didn’t have the right connections, but he was loaded. And that money would come in handy as a family rift with the Champ Car side of the family was on the horizon. So Mother Indy hooked up. And what’s wrong with that? After him, she took up with that Bernie boy from England, and that caused quite a stir because she had to build him a new place on the family compound. And then she had the audacity to run around with motorcyclists. The purist family was aghast. But she wasn’t done. She brought in a support series for the man from the South, and she started keeping company with some young college types that call themselves “gentlemen drivers.” Her purist family could hardly show their faces in public anymore. How could their mother treat them this way. Did she have no shame?
The simple answer is that shame, virtue, modesty, and tradition have nothing to do with what the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has done since 1994, when it hosted the first Brickyard 400. It has done what any business is supposed to do for its owners: make money. And why is that a crime? The purists say that the tradition of the Indianapolis 500 is paramount; there should be one race only. Carl Fisher, the architect of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, ran a series of events, including ones for motorcycles and balloons, and his first races put the cars in classes, very much like the support series for Formula 1 and the Rolex and Continental Tire Series.
Does the old lady look lonely when only 50 thousand of her friends show up for a party that can seat 250,000? Absolutely. Should perception be the deciding issue on hosting these events? Absolutely not. The bottom line for hosting an event should be the bottom line. If it make financial sense to host a race, then host it. Fenway Park is Fenway Park. They play baseball, hockey, and host concerts there. It’s the same for Wrigley Field. I’m pretty sure the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs is not the only time the horses run in Louisville. The Derby first ran in 1875 and the traditions (including mint juleps and ugly hats) seem to hold up pretty well with other events running on the same track. Tradition can survive change. It has to.
So the next time a new suitor comes knocking on Aunt Indy’s door, don’t purse your lips, look over the top of your glasses, and cluck a tsk, tsk. Give her a big grin and shout “You go, girl!” Tradition be damned. Have fun.