(EDITOR’S NOTE: 51’s X-Factor is a feature on Speed51.com that features opinions from columnists on racing’s hottest topics. Aaron Bearden, the author of this editorial, is a Midwest Correspondent for Speed51.com. The views which are expressed in the following column are his own and not necessarily the views of Speed51.com and/or its partners.)
Two days removed from the Indy Invitational, I have to say – that was certainly interesting.
With a number of yellow flags that would make NFL safety Brandon Browner jealous, and multiple delays due to fume issues in the enclosed Bankers Life Fieldhouse, the inaugural race often seemed like it would never end, or at least wouldn’t ever see a legitimate green-flag run.
By the time Kyle Schuett crossed the start-finish line to claim a surprising victory at around 1:30 a.m. ET – more than nine hours after the start of hot laps – only around a thousand fans, and the dedicated pay-per-view subscribers on Speed51 TV had stuck around to see the dramatic ending.
After the difficult show, some disgruntled fans have called for the December event to be moved to the nearby Lucas Oil Stadium (a move which was attempted and denied by the venue), or for the event to be cancelled altogether.
That just wouldn’t be right.
No one’s denying that the inaugural Indy Invitational didn’t go according to plan. It was a painful night for drivers, teams and fans. But that doesn’t mean that the event doesn’t deserve a second chance.
The promoters and planners involved with the Indy Invitational did something rarely seen in the modern day; they stuck their necks out for the sport they loved, took a big risk, and put on a unique, engaging event.
18 hours before the first outlaw karts accelerated into Turn 1 of the 1/10-mile dirt track in Banker’s Life Fieldhouse, the Indiana Pacers were wrapping up a 96-83 victory over the visiting Miami Heat. Somehow, in that minor time span, workers managed to disassemble the basketball court, bring in multiple truckloads of dirt, work the dirt into a racetrack and add walls and fencing to protect drivers and fans.
Sure, the racing wasn’t the prettiest, but what did people expect? Indoor racing is rarely watched for green-flag runs and side-by-side racing. It’s a spectacle, and the Indy Invitational was one of the greatest of them all.
Don’t believe me? Take a step back and look at everything that happened.
Announced seemingly out of thin air, the Indy Invitational offered crowds of people at the nearby PRI Trade Show a chance to take in a race in Indianapolis, in the middle of December, no less.
Drivers were selected solely by invitations on social media, depending on fan outreach and owner support to bring in big names.
And boy, did the big names come. The entry list for the event served as an essential “who’s who” of racing, with NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers Kyle Larson and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. going to battle against open wheel aces including Bryan Clauson and Christopher Bell, USAC legend Dave Darland, late model ace and MudSummer Classic surprise Bobby Pierce, Karsyn Elledge, an upcoming prospect and relative of Dale Earnhardt, Jr., and World of Outlaws stars Joey Saldana and Daryn Pittman.
Stars weren’t just behind the cockpit, either. Bob Dillner and Speed51.com could be found on the big screen, broadcasting the event worldwide on pay-per-view. Late model legend Scott Bloomquist, Daytona 500 champion Michael Waltrip and racing journeyman Max Papis were among those in attendance.
The rewards for winning were great, too. Along with $5,000 and $10,000 for the outlaw kart and midget feature winners, respectively, the trophies for the night’s two winners were fully-functional steering wheels. Throw in a yellow jacket and ultimate bragging rights for the midget winner, and the stakes were as high as any race in the nation.
With almost no time to prepare, track workers somehow made Bankers Life Fieldhouse – a basketball arena, remember – into a drivable racetrack, and when things finally settled down at the end, the racing product wasn’t too bad.
Sure, it wasn’t the Chili Bowl Nationals by any stretch, but what indoor race is? The reason the Chili Bowl is so special is because no other indoor event can pull off what it does.
Fans are having a difficult time grasping just how big of a challenge pulling off the Indy Invitational was, but drivers and teams at the venue saw the efforts that went into it.
There’s a lot of room for improvement (we’ll get to that at another time), but the Indy Invitational deserves to be celebrated for what it was: a unique, exciting event in a venue no one believed could pull such an event off.
The Indy Invitational was held with the hope of becoming a major annual show, and now that they know what adjustments need to be made, it could become just that.
Everyone just needs to give them a chance.
-By Aaron Bearden, Speed51.com Midwest Correspondent – Twitter: @AaronBearden93
-Photo credit: Dave Biro/DB3 Imaging