KRAVITZ: Snicker all you want about the poor Brickyard attendance, but this one's all on Mother Nature

NASCAR Cup Series driver Brad Keselowski (2) takes the checkered flag as he wins the NASCAR Brickyard 400 auto race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, in Indianapolis Monday, Sept. 10, 2018. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)
Published:
Updated:
Bob Kravitz

So I'm looking out the window in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway press center, and I'm thinking of all the snarky comments I might make about the fact that roughly 15-to-20,000 people showed up for the 25th annual Big Machine Vodka 400 That's Somehow Affiliated With Florida Georgia Line And Possibly The Pixies. I mean, bad Pacers teams get better crowds.

And then I thought…

No.

Not going to do that.

Have I become a beacon of empathy in my old age? Gosh, I hope not.

But let's be honest: Mother Nature completely screwed up the whole weekend by dropping 4.59 inches of rain on the Indianapolis area Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Practices were cancelled – all of them. Concerts were cancelled. The race Sunday was postponed until Monday, a day when most normal people go to real jobs (something I know nothing about). This was the first time in NASCAR history the drivers didn't get a minute of track time to prepare for a race.

Truth is, IMS was expecting an increase in crowd size from last year's number, a change in trajectory for a race that's been leaking oil for years. And then those horrible meteorologists – and you know who you are – started talking about Gordon (not Jeff Gordon) and its impact on race weekend.

Welcome to the Weekend From Hell.

By the time it was over, Speedway President Doug Boles was left with nothing except gallows humor, walking around with a "Hi, my name is…'' nametag that read "#Ark 400.''

I asked him, "When you get home and open that first beer, will you be celebrating having survived this, or just drink away your sorrows?''

He laughed. "I've already had my first beer.

"I'm celebrating having survived it,'' he said. "I just had the opportunity to gather the staff together to thank them, and to see the smiles and hear the laughter from the facilities team to ops to our ticketing team to the folks who work with our suite customers, I was most concerned about them, but they survived it. They had a blast, so I'm pretty excited. I spent the whole race walking around…and talking to fans and generally they were understanding and happy.

"You never want to do something like this. You never want to send customers home or make them stay an extra day. And the staff having to work another day, you don't want it to happen. But the community has done a great job supporting us and we should celebrate it.''

Again, at the risk of sounding empathetic, I genuinely feel terrible for Boles and all the people who spent the better part of a year working and preparing for this weekend, only to see the whole thing ruined by the fates. They devote so much time and energy and money to provide the fans with an experience, and they got nothing, less than nothing, in return.

People will undoubtedly see the sparse Monday-afternoon crowd and snicker about the continued demise of the race. What I'm saying is, don't snicker. This was not their fault. They did everything they could possible do, from installing the dirt track to setting up and breaking down concert stages and heaven-knows-what else, and they got so little in return.

Even Boles, who wears a perpetual smile on his face, found himself becoming dejected at times this weekend.

"Yeah, there were two points when I did (get dejected),'' he said. "So Thursday night when the rain hit the dirt track, we were battling an 11 p.m. sound ordinance and figuring out how you balance 7,500 customers and 110 participants, and then the neighbors on a school night. So that was a really big challenge.

"It probably hit me most Sunday when I thought we might get a (weather) window (to get the race in). I got here, the track was dry, we were getting ready to do pre-race introductions and then somebody in the room said, 'It's raining again.' I thought, 'That can't be right.' Then it hit me, we're not going to get this thing in today. So I was a little dejected there. But I try to stay positive and keep the (IMS) gang going.''

Even before the rains came, the race had its challenges. It was decided that the Brickyard would move from July to early September – one, to give customers better temperatures in which to watch the race and two, to install the Brickyard as the final race before the playoffs. But the Colts' season opener was scheduled the time and day of the race; Boles hoped the Colts could alter their schedule, maybe play Week 1 on the road and Week 2 at home, but with Taylor Swift at Lucas Oil this coming Sunday, the Colts were understandably reticent to open their season with three straight road games.

Boles said Sunday he doesn't regret the schedule change for a minute – again, the crowd was supposed to be better than last year – but once he saw the long-range forecast, he knew he was in trouble.

So how many people showed up Monday? I'd guess around 15,000. Boles estimated roughly 25,000. Whatever. The place was nearly empty.

"We were doing over-unders (Sunday night),'' he said. "The crowd was better than I expected. I hope we were pushing 25,000 today. I guessed way lower. I've seen races on Mondays and only a handful of people show up. If we were above 15,000, I would have been happy.''

It was a washout and yes, the Speedway took a financial hit on this one. As you'd expect.

"Staffing for today was the biggest challenge,'' Boles said. "The yellow shirts, concession stand workers, those are things you don't budget for.''

For those who found the time to attend the race, they were treated to one of the more insane finishes we can ever remember. Brad Keselowski made a manic pass on the final restart and won the race, earning team owner Roger Penske his first-ever Brickyard 400 crown. The Captain has 17 poles and 17 victories in the Indianapolis 500, four Grand Prix titles and now…a Brickyard 400.

But the rain this weekend, that, unfortunately, was the story of this lost weekend.

It wasn't until about a half hour after the race conclusion that crepuscular rays of sunshine finally shown through the overcast. It was the first time the giant orb showed its face all weekend. "Hey, Mother Nature – thanks for sending the Sun our way,'' read the tweet from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. "But you're a little late.'' The fates did not treat this year's big Brickyard weekend fairly. A shame, really.

Want more Kravitz? Subscribe to The Bob Kravitz Podcast on iTunes,Google Play, Stitcher or TuneIn. If you have a good story idea that's worth writing, feel free to send it to bkravitz@wthr.com.