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Tradition, money, dreams all found at the Brickyard

With just five years behind it, this race already is a driver favorite.

Mostly, it's the track and its tradition. These are hallowed grounds, where hundreds of thousands worship whatever goes fast. And don't discount the money, Winston Cup's second-largest posted purse.

No wonder the Brickyard 400, with just five years of history behind it, has risen to such grand status that some say only the Daytona 500 is more important.

No wonder drivers drool like little ones when talking about racing their big ol' stock cars at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

"No matter who you are or what you have ever done behind a wheel," Steve Park said, "if you win at Indy, you are a hero."


"Any time you win at Indy it's a big deal," said Jeff Gordon, pole-setter for today's sixth running of stock cars at the Brickyard, winner of the inaugural 400 in 1994 and winner again in '98. "To me, winning that first Brickyard 400 was like living through a fantasy, like you're really not sure if you're sleeping and dreaming, or it's really happening.

"Nothing will ever compare to that."


Heavy stuff from a three-time Winston Cup champ, a guy who has won at Daytona, Charlotte, Talladega and virtually everywhere else with a start-finish line.

But that's how these drivers feel, drivers who wouldn't be racing here if it weren't for the fact Indy finally let down its guard and welcomed the good ol' boys.

"Racing at Indianapolis is an awesome experience," Mike Skinner said. "It's the racetrack that I always admired as a child. Walking up behind the pits and up Gasoline Alley gives me a feeling that a lot of other tracks don't."

"From the very first time we went there, I've said Indy is a really special place," Kyle Petty said. "Still, I don't feel the same going to Indy as I do to a place like Daytona. But there's a reason for that.

"Indianapolis has been running the Indianapolis 500, like, since a little before time began. I guess there were dinosaurs driving cars there at one time. But they have built such a tremendous tradition over the years with some of the greatest racing of all times.

"Daytona hasn't been running the Daytona 500 quite as many years, but NASCAR has still been racing there for a long, long time. Again, they've built a tremendous history and a tremendous tradition. The stock car race at Indianapolis just hasn't done that yet. Because of that, it's not in the same category as a Daytona 500 or Indianapolis 500. Now, I do think that will change. Give the Brickyard 400 another 20 years, and we will have built a tradition and we will have a history."

So no one is about to say the Brickyard is primed to displace Daytona's from its Super Bowl-like throne.

As for most other Winston races, it's already happened.

"Don't get me wrong, I really appreciate all 49 of my career wins and love all the tracks we've won on," Rusty Wallace said. "But, when it gets right down to it from a big-time prestige factor, there's the Daytona 500, the (Coca-Cola) 600 at Charlotte and the Brickyard 400 at Indy.

"You ask any of the guys in the garage area which races they want to win the most, and I'll guarantee you that you'll get the same answer from them all. These races have become our "Triple Crown.' "


Yet it seems so true.

A prize purse of more than $6-million, second among Cup races only to the Daytona 500's $7,287,146, seems to confirm that, as the fact that expected Brickyard attendance this year will be roughly equivalent to the population of Louisville.

"I guess Indy is kind of like auto racing's version of Woodstock," Park said.

Open-wheel racing history here plays a big part, too. So does the fact that, until recently, the Brickyard was closed to those select few. Now, economics and politics having made their mark, the Winston Cuppers run here, and, starting next year, Formula One will too.

"The more we go there," Petty said, "the bigger a race it's going to be.

"Everybody's heard of Indy. It's known all over the world. You win at Indianapolis and you've won something pretty big just because of where you won it. Stock cars, Indy cars, school buses _ and that would be a heck of a place for a school bus race _ no matter what they run there, it's going to be a big deal."