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CHRIS KATTERJOHN Commentary: On races revered, refined and rowdy

August 6, 2007

Now that this year's Brickyard 400 is behind us, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is making major capital investments that will lay the groundwork for another new era at the Brickyard.

To the tune of several million dollars, crews are now preparing to repave the track and alter the former F-1 course for the introduction of motorcycles in September 2008.

These are the latest improvements in a string of many over the last dozen years that have paid off for both IMS and the city. IMS continues to plot and execute a long-term strategy that maximizes its biggest asset ... to the benefit of all of us.

2007 was a pivotal year.

After a tumultuous eight-year relationship, the Refined Race led by the Equine's Posterior from England is history. Bernie Ecclestone has taken his toys and gone home. I'm glad.

In case you were worried that the loss of the Grand Prix will cut the supply of foreigners flowing into our city, don't be. Ecclestone's race, the U.S. Grand Prix, has been replaced by an event that will keep the eyes of the international racing world focused here, this time from a two-wheeled perspective.

September 2008 marks the launch of the Red Bull Indianapolis GP, a motorcycle race that's part of a series managed and sanctioned by MotoGP, the world's premier motorcycle racing series.

The group puts on 18 races in 16 countries, from China and France to Australia and Germany, and those races are undoubtedly more engaging than the no-pass, wrongdirection Grand Prix.

Like F-1, MotoGP will bring drivers, teams and fans from all over the globe here and introduce us to a form of racing that could be even more exciting than the fourwheel variety. These bikes generate 250 horsepower and hit a top speed of 210 mph. On turns, the 350-pound twowheelers practically lie flat.

The IMS' "old" standards, of course, continue to revel in their glory. The Rowdy Race That's Steeped in Budweiser just finished up a whale of weekend, and NASCAR once again proved itself to have the most avid fans of any sport in the nation.

And, of course, this year, the Revered Race That Started It All had a great month of May, even though rain delayed and shortened the race itself.

A dozen years ago, when Tony George created the Indy Racing League and split from CART, he took a lot of flak for allegedly tarnishing the glory of the Indy 500 and throwing open-wheel racing in North America into a likely fatal state of turmoil.

In the creation of the IRL, critics saw an ego-driven power play, and in the league itself an anemic schedule and a roster of drivers and owners with little marquee value. In hindsight, the decision looks brilliant. CART has all but disappeared, IRL has a full schedule, and drivers' names have regained the firepower they had in the era of Unser (as in Bobby and Al Sr.), Andretti (as in Mario), Foyt (as in A.J. Sr.), Mears and so on.

For starters, think of Helio Castroneves, Tony Kanaan, Sam Hornish Jr. and Dario Franchitti. These guys have personality! Of course, in Franchitti's case, it helps that he has actress Ashley Judd for a wife. And then there's Danica Patrick, who has created enough buzz single-handedly to lift any sport.

And don't forget Brickyard Crossing. In 1993, George & Co. took a decidedly run-of-the-mill golf course and had it redesigned by Pete Dye. The resulting course was named one of the nation's 100 best public golf courses by Golf Digest magazine that same year and went on to host a PGA Senior Tour event for seven years running.

Who knows what the future holds? Speculation abounds about a hotel and convention facility on land the Hulmans own adjacent to the track. There's also talk of razing the existing Brickyard Crossing Inn to build suites and condominiums.

Whatever comes to pass at the Speedway, I'm sure the IMS leaders will keep tinkering. And, if their track record is any indication, the future will be bright.



Katterjohn is publisher of IBJ.To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to ckatterjohn@ibj.com.
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