Gentlemen, Start Your Engines

My first taste of NASCAR came in 1997, as I gathered together with 400,000 of my closest friends to watch Ricky Rudd race the ridiculously orange #10 Tide car to the checkered flag.

I sat on pit row and marveled at how quickly men could change four tires and dump gallons of gasoline into a running car - so much for those signs at filling stations that say it's dangerous to leave your motor on while pumping petroleum. I marveled at how earsplitting NASCAR engines are - a noise can be excruciatingly obnoxious and magnificently intoxicating at the same time. And I marveled at how attractive (most) all the drivers' wives were - and hoped that the ones with the prettiest wives would remain on the track so their wives would remain in the pits.

But most marvelous of all, simply, was the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, or IMS for short.

Best known as the home of the Indianapolis 500, the "Greatest Spectacle in Racing," the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is rich in tradition. And rich in riches too.

Besides the Brickyard 400 and the Indy 500, IMS hosts the SAP United States Grand Prix Formula One race. According to Sports Business Journal, these were three of the top five moneymaking events in sports in 2000. Indy was king, bringing in $336.6 million, $100 million more than the second-place Daytona 500. The Brickyard was third with $219.5 million and the U.S. Grand Prix was fifth was $170.8 million. Wedged in between those in fourth place was Super Bowl XXXIV with $215 million.

The Indianapolis 500 has long been the globe's largest attended single-day sporting event. This is hardly surprising; the speedway is Earth's largest seating facility with 250,000 permanent places for one's buttocks. Second on the list used to be pole day (qualifying) at the Indy 500, but pole day has since been surpassed by the Brickyard 400.

NASCAR named its 160-lap race in Indianapolis the "Brickyard" because that's the nickname for the IMS. That's the nickname for the IMS because in 1909 3.2 million bricks were laid as the track's surface. Most of the bricks remain in place under the current surface, with three feet of brick at the start/finish line still visible.

The track itself is a 2.5-mile oval, and 224 acres sit within that oval. That's enough land to grow 560,000 pounds of tobacco (given, according to my father-in-law - and who am I to argue, that an average tobacco yield is 2500 pounds per acre).

But golf is more profitable than smokes, so instead of a 'baccy farm, IMS put a Pat Dye-designed championship golf course (or part of one anyway) inside the track. Holes 7-10 of the Brickyard Crossing Golf Course lie between turns 2 and 3. Greens fees for one round are $90 (told you golf is a cash cow). However, this price includes a golf cart with a built-in hole location system using global positioning satellite technology.

As far as track records go (for racing, not golf), Brett Bodine has driven the fastest qualifying lap in a stock car at 181.072 mph, or 49.704 seconds around the loop; Bobby LaBonte has run the quickest complete race, averaging 155.912 mph. In open-wheel cars, Arie Luyendyk qualified at 237.498 mps, or 37.895 seconds; he also holds the complete race record, averaging 185.981 mph. Whether in a NASCAR or Indy car, whether qualifying or on race day, that's fast.

Fans need speed - although, Indiana race fans will watch just about anything with an engine race anything else with an engine (even lawn tractors) - as long as they go in circles. Yes, Hoosiers are among the most passionate race fans in America. As evidence of this love, an Indy racing car - not some historic government building or natural landmark - will grace Indiana's commemorative quarter scheduled for distribution in August 2002.

And if you're talking racing in Indiana, one name that surely will come up is Jeff Gordon. Gordon, an Indiana native, is the most cheered and jeered driver in NASCAR and also its best. Heading home for the Brickyard, Gordon, the race's only two-time winner, leads the NASCAR Winston Cup Series by 45 points over the aforementioned Ricky Rudd (who traded in the #10 for the #28 Texaco/Havoline car).

On August 5, I'll be heading home too, attending my third Brickyard 400. And personally, I'd like to see Gordon get his third win.

After all, of all the drivers, he's got the prettiest wife.

(Though mine still takes the checkered flag overall.)

NASCAR runs this Sunday at the 8th annual Brickyard 400 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.


Hopscotch Revisited

If you missed your chance earlier this summer to exhibit your artistic tendencies, Chalk the Walk is happening again on Aug. 3. From 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., chalk will be available to anyone interested in contributing to the "Dog Days of Summer" theme. Local artist Pat Gerhard will be on hand to help with the fun. For more information, call 231-7335. -Loree Stark

Movin' On Up

Former Police Chief Larry Walsh begins his term as Public Safety Commissioner this week after the retirement of former Public Safety Commissioner Tim Bennett. Mayor Pam Miller announced the change in personnel on July 3.

Assistant Chief Ulysses Berry will serve in the interim as acting Police Chief until a replacement is found for Walsh. Berry has been endorsed by the local force.

Walsh has been with the Lexington Police force since 1967 and has served as chief since 1990. In his new position, Walsh will oversee the divisions of Fire and Emergency Services, Code Enforcement, Building Inspection, Community Corrections and Emergency and Environmental Management.

Walsh's replacement will be picked from a list of internal applicants based on training and experience. An internal committee will review the top five candidates and make a recommendation of the top two candidates to the Mayor, who will forward her choice to the Council.-LS

On Your Mark, Get Set

Don't look for freestyle ice skating or complicated acrobatic events here. Although the Bluegrass State Games didn't offer quite the caliber of the Olympics, the 2001 Summer Games did offer competitive fun for Kentucky residents.

Hundreds of athletes from 75 counties racked up a total of 684 medals during the first weekend of the Bluegrass Games, with Fayette County in the lead. To kick off the second weekend of games, Rodger Bingham (the Survivor guy) spoke on Friday, July 27 at Applebee's Park. Kentucky's largest amateur sporting event wrapped up on Sunday, July 29. -LS

Show Me the Money!

Looking for a way to invest your money without going deeply into debt? The Bluegrass Chapter of NAIC will hold its fourteenth Annual Bluegrass Investors Fair August 3 and 4 at the Four Points Sheraton. The convention will feature a keynote speech by Ralph Seger, a columnist for Better Investing magazine and will also feature presentations by Century Telephone, Cemex and Value Line. Don't worry about getting lost in the lingo of the business world; the program is designed with the small investor in mind. For more information, contact FAIR Director Jocelyn Dickson at 293-0810 or Information Director Mary Cordray at 272-1663. -LS