By Toby Christie (Originally appeared on RubbingsRacing.com)
Sunday May 30th will mark the day that auto racing enthusiasts have had circled on their calendar all year long. I’m of course talking about the epic day that features 1,100 miles of racing.
The first leg of the long day for spectators is the Indianapolis 500. This year will mark the 94th edition of a race that is steeped in tradition and a rich history.
However long and gone are the days of Indy’s luster. In 1996 Indy alienated many of their fans by basically splitting the popular open wheel series CART in two.
For several years you had CART and the Indy Racing League competing against each other trying to knock the other out of business, but what really happened in the end was that they were cutting their noses off to spite their faces as the talent in open wheel was spread very thinly between the two racing leagues.
As a result the once super power of auto racing, has long since been passed by NASCAR in fans and viewership.
Fans were drawn to NASCAR for it’s southern hospitality, and the amazing array of personalities in the garage area. Indy has been searching for anything possible to bring them back to the summit of auto racing, but even some of their drivers have jumped ship in recent years. Indy’s attempts for new followers via “Danica-mania” have proven to be futile.
Not only that, but even Danica herself is even debating a full-time move to NASCAR.
So with all of this on the table is it possible that the Indy 500 hasn’t just been passed by the Daytona 500 as the biggest racing event of the season, but has it also been passed by the Coca-Cola 600 as the biggest event on Memorial Day weekend?
It’s an intriguing story that is less and less ignorable with each passing year. Don’t get me wrong, I fully understand the history and mystique of Indy, but I myself believe that the Coca-Cola 600 has become the one to watch (if you have to select just one), and here’s why:
- The extra 100-miles: The Coca-Cola 600 has been famously known as NASCAR’s longest and most grueling event of the season. In order to win this race not only does it take a smart driver, but every last inch of the car must be built correctly, due to the intense length of the event. One missed bolt here or there, and you stand a possibility of the engine coming apart before the race is over.
- Less favorable conditions: In NASCAR the cars weigh twice as much, and the tires on the cars are half as wide as those in Indy. To put it simply driving a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series car takes a lot more driver input.
- NASCAR is a contact sport, Indy isn’t: In Indy if two cars rub in the corner their front wings are destroyed, and their days are done… you don’t have that in NASCAR. All night long people will see good hard racing. Bumping, rubbing, and nudging are a way of life in the Coca-Cola 600.
- Indy’s history is rich, but so is Charlotte’s: For a long time the Indy 500 rode the coattails of their former winners such as Andretti, Foyt, and Unser but don’t discount the legends who have taken the checkers in NASCAR’s longest race. Among the past champions of the Coca-Cola 600 are Petty, Pearson, Waltrip, Allison, Earnhardt and Gordon. In my opinion it doesn’t get any better than that.
- Indy’s Lack Of Current Star Power: I challenge you to off the top of your head to name 15 drivers who will be competing in the 2010 Indianapolis 500… impossible isn’t it? Well it’s because the majority of their stars are now trying to make a name for themselves in NASCAR. The Coca-Cola 600 will feature the greatest current drivers in the world, hands down.
- Celebratory Beverage: The Indy 500 the winner has always drank milk in victory lane… that’s great and all, but NASCAR even has them beat in that category. The Coca-Cola will be flowing in victory lane Sunday, nobody can deny that Coke has a distinctive kick, while milk is more dull…
There you have it, the Coca-Cola 600 has in my mind surpassed the Indianapolis 500 as the race to watch on Memorial Day weekend… Now don’t get me wrong I will of course tune into the Indianapolis 500, and I’m not saying it’s not a great race. However for the reasons above the Coca-Cola 600 will be the highlight of the day for me.