Amy and I crammed into the packed Indianapolis Motor Speedway 20 years ago to watch 23-year old Jeff Gordon win the inaugural Brickyard 400 race.
Two decades later, Gordon — now 43 — won for the fifth time in 20 races but a lot fewer people watched as empty grandstands stood in mute testament to an bad economy and a waning grandstand at the grand old track.
The Brickyard 400 isn’t alone. The onetime greatest race in motor sports — the open-wheeled Indy 500 — can’t fill the seats nowadays and we ordered front straight tickets online at Bristol Motor Speedway Sunday for the night race at the end of August — a race that used to sellout a year in advance.
A lot has changed in the National Association of Stock Car Racing (NASCAR) and the one-time whiz kid of racing — Jeff Gordon — is middle-aged but currently leading in the points and considered a likely candidate for a fifth championship amid the Sprint Cup series that was called the Winston Cup before another Southern tradition — tobacco — nosedived.
As a Southerner, I didn’t care for Gordon in his younger days. My wife liked him. The transported Californian moved to Indy to be at what was then the mecca of racing. Now, he lives near Charlotte, the current center of stock car action.
Gordon seemed to calculating, too packaged and too lacking in the tradition of stock racing. That tradition is all but gone now and even Gordon is considered old timely among the veteran racers.
But Gordon can still win and dominated the track like the Jeffie of old Sunday. His drive is still there. Too bad the desired for his sport of choice appears to be on the wane.