Bryan Smith (42) leads Chris...
Bryan Smith (42) leads Chris Carr (4), Joe Kopp and Ken Coolbeth at the Lucas Oils Indy Mile dirt-track event. Carr went on to win the race while Coolbeth wrapped up his third consecutive AMA Grand National Twins Championship.
As you've no doubt read by now, the inaugural Red Bull Indianapolis Grand Prix was a success despite crazy weather that cut the MotoGP race short and forced the 250 race to be cancelled. There were plenty of highlights over the weekend: Walking into Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the first time and realizing how enormous it really is. Seeing Nicky Hayden lead the race and score his first podium of the year. And watching Valentino Rossi win and take the record for most premier-class victories from Giacomo Agostini. But the best part of the weekend for me was going to the Lucas Oil Indy Mile at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. That's right, a dirt-track race.
When I was growing up, the AMA's Grand National Championship had roadracing and dirt-track interwoven, with points from five venues-roadrace, short track, half-mile, mile and TT-counting toward a single championship. So it was natural to keep an eye on the dirt-track results to see how guys like Kenny Roberts and Gary Nixon were faring. Ironically, many racers that started out on the dirt were eventually forced onto the pavement to score as many points as possible, and-as is well documented-this is how quite a few roadracing champions got their start. Anyway, I ended up following dirt-track as much as roadracing when I was younger, and have always wanted to go to a mile race.
The Indy Mile in particular has some interesting history for roadracing fans. It's where Kenny Roberts won aboard the infamous Yamaha TZ750-based dirt-tracker, after which the bike was essentially banned from the series. I've been to a few dirt-track races and done plenty of ice racing on ovals, but nothing prepared me for the Indianapolis race. Kent and I had media passes for the night, and were standing ready on the inside guardrail to watch the first heat race. I could have reached out and touched the bikes as they went by and even got a big faceful of dirt on the first lap. It was incredible to watch the riders fling their bikes sideways with the throttle wide open at way more than 100 miles per hour, then use the throttle to scrub off speed. It's no wonder dirt-trackers go so well on pavement when they have mastered that kind of control.
Despite the divergence of the two series over the past years, it was great to see some roadracers in the field. In fact, Chris Carr, a former factory Harley-Davidson VR1000 rider and current holder of the motorcycle land speed record, won the main event on a Harley. Henry Wiles, a frontrunner in the Moto-ST series, finished seventh on an Aprilia. And Nick Cummings, one of my teammates for last year's Daytona 8-hour Moto-ST race, finished ninth. The race itself was a barnburner, with multi-rider packs through the field and a good battle for the lead. Red flags close to the end of the race left a five-lap dash to the finish, with Carr and Kenny Coolbeth dicing for the lead right to the finish.
With the mile race the same weekend as the Grand Prix, there were plenty of spectators at the fairgrounds and I saw a lot of team shirts from the Brickyard. It was interesting to see the Europeans out of their somewhat isolated paddock and watching a uniquely American event. At night, in a fairgrounds with the smell of horses in the air and spectators sitting on tailgates in the infield, is the way dirt-track should be, and I imagine the experience for them was similar to an American going to a Grand Prix in Europe for the first time.
The huge number of spectators did turn out to be a problem for the fairgrounds, as the small staff appeared completely overwhelmed. I heard from people that waited in line for more than an hour to pick up tickets, and others that saw the line and simply turned around. I'm sure the staff will be much better prepared next year, and the turnout this year was hopefully a boost for the flat track community. Estimates put attendance at close to 20,000 spectators, and in a news release Chris Carr said that the race did more for the sport of flat track than just about anything since "On Any Sunday."
If you attend the Grand Prix next year, it's definitely worth checking out the dirt-track race as well. But there's no need to wait for Indy; there are a handful of Miles on the AMA's dirt-track schedule, and at least one of them should be on your must-see list of motorcycle events.