Brickyard 400: Should Indy install lights? Feelings mixed among drivers

Tom Pennington

"Should NASCAR race under the lights at Indianapolis Motor Speedway?" is a popular question, but not all drivers are in agreement on what the answer is.

Although NASCAR drivers frequently gush how important a win is at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, it appears fans don't feel the same about stock cars competing on the venerable track.

Attendance for the annual Sprint Cup Series race has taken a precipitous dip in recent years. In 2006, 280,000 spectators attended compared to the estimated 125,000 who came through the gate a year ago.

And this is despite the Brickyard 400 being regarded as NASCAR's second-most prestigious event.

The decline in popularity as led to some questioning NASCAR's future at The Speedway, suggesting the race be taken off the Cup calendar with the track returning as an exclusive venue for the Indianapolis 500.

Another idea that has been floated is installing lights and moving the race to night, a proposal track officials are considering. In April, the Indiana State Legislature passed a $100 million capital improvement package for IMS, which could be put toward lights, expected to cost in the neighborhood of $20 million.

"It doesn't need lights, (but) I think it would be awesome to race here at night," Jeff Gordon said Friday. "I would never want to see the Indy 500 run under the lights. But the Brickyard 400 breaks traditions. It always has."

The addition of lights would see the race shift to Saturday evening. This would allow fans to escape the hot temperatures, which typically plague the traditional afternoon start time. It would also provide a built-in rain date and gives those traveling an opportunity to see the race on the following day in case of a delay.

"It seems like when it's a Saturday night, it's an exciting thing for fans and competitors," Gordon said. "I've not seen a night race not be a win-win for everyone."

Not everyone is in agreement with Gordon, however.

Clint Bowyer would prefer to keep the race during the daylight. He likes that the sun makes the surface hot and slick, creating more of a challenge for drivers. By shifting the race to night, the cooler track temperatures would provide more grip and as a byproduct, could produce a less competitive event.

Bowyer also doesn't want to see Indy break with tradition. The track has been in existence since 1909, and every race in its 104-year history has been conducted during the day.

"Just look back at all the races that have run on this place," he said. "That's what's important about this track in my opinion is the tradition of coming back here. I think that's why the fans have come here for years and years and years.

"It's always been a day race. I don't see why it shouldn't be."

Plus, he has another practical reason why lights shouldn't be installed around the 2.5-mile oval.

"You're going to need nuclear power to light this place," Bowyer said. "You're going to have to shut down downtown to have enough power to light this track. It's huge."

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