INDIANAPOLIS — NASCAR’s decision to move away from the Brickyard 400 on Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s oval was a controversial one. In the face of dwindling attendance, the series moved to the road course in 2021. Some drivers, like Richard Childress Racing’s Austin Dillon, were disappointed with the change.
“We lost a crown jewel when we don’t go to the oval there,” Dillon said in 2021. “I don’t think the road course will ever be what the oval history has, so I’m kind of disappointed we don ‘t get to race on the oval.”
Long-term drops in attendance caused the move. About 220,000 fewer people went to the race in 2017 than in 2007, from over 250,000 to 35,000. Rain kept numbers down in 2018 and attendance jumped slightly to around 60,000 in 2019, the last pre-pandemic Brickyard 400 around the oval.
NASCAR does not release attendance figures, but the move to the road course has not had any impact on attendance. Excluding 2020 when the pandemic prevented fans from attending, the crowd has remained around 60,000 in 2021 and Sunday.
This year, at what is now the Verizon 200, none of the fans who spoke to IndyStar on Sunday shared Dillon’s disappointment in the lack of oval laps at IMS. In fact, many found it to be a refreshing change from the typical race.
“I’ve seen enough ovals, so this course is just awesome,” Cathy Billitier said.
“So much more action, Christy Westerfield said. “You get to see (the drivers’) talent more.”
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Seeing IMS had long been a bucket-list item for Billitier, who drove more than nine hours from Rochester, New York, to be in Indianapolis for the weekend and see her favorite driver, Joey Logano. She spent Saturday at the track (“All day yesterday,” she repeats for effect), and arrived when the gates opened Sunday.
Mel Valenzuela came from the other direction, traveling from Nebraska for the race after his kids gave him tickets as a father’s day gift. It wasn’t important to him or Billitier that they weren’t at the track for the Indianapolis 500 or what track the race was using. Just being within the walls was enough.
“I think it’s gonna be neat to be honest with you,” Valenzuela said. “I want to go see if we can find some seats over on the turns instead of sitting in the grandstands.”
Others simply didn’t care about the changes. Kyle Owens, a longtime racing fan, attends every year with his father. The weekend provides an annual bonding opportunity for the two, and Owens wasn’t going to lose that just because the format of the race changed.
“I like the change,” he said. “The oval was tradition, so I kind of miss that a little bit, but it is what it is.”