ROBINSON: Racing Memories
WAVERLY, N.Y. — Indianapolis Motor Speedway was only used for the Indy 500 from 1911 until the first Brickyard 400 in 1994. Bringing NASCAR to Indianapolis was the creation of Tony George, or course.
Nearly 80 cars attempted to qualify for the 160-lap inaugural event, which turned out to be A.J. Foyt’s last race. He had already announced his retirement, but he came out to run one more race. The most notable factor of the race was the collision of Brett Bodine and Geoff Bodine. Geoff retired from the event, while Brett finished second behind winner Jeff Gordon.
I once did an interview with Brett, who speculated how different his career might have been if he had won the Brickyard 400 instead of finishing second. He figures he wouldn’t have had to worry about not having a ride after he broke up with Kenny Bernstein. Of course, Brett probably led more laps than anyone other than Tony Stewart this past year, as driver of the pace car.
The second Brickyard 400 in 1995 was delayed by rain. In fact, I was across town when it finally stopped raining and didn’t make the start of the event. We arrived about 20 laps into the race. I still have an un-stubbed 1995 ticket because they were just waving people in who had a correct ticket, not tear off the stubs.
During the summer of 1996 I was sitting at my desk in Dover, Del., when the phone rang. On the other end was the legendary Tom Carnegie, announcer at Indianapolis Motor Speedway for more than 50 years. I knew Tom from working with him at New Hampshire. He made me an offer I couldn’t refuse — could you help me at the Brickyard 400, he asked?
The reason the opportunity presented itself was that the race coincided with the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, and his regular teammate was there. So, by being at the right place at the right time I had the opportunity to announce at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. I still have the sweater that has “Indianapolis Motor Speedway Public Address” embroidered on it. And it’s still in good condition.
The pay for the weekend just barely covered my expenses, but it was an opportunity of a lifetime. To have what is reputed to be the largest public address system at any sporting facility in your hands is something you don’t take lightly. The time I got to do the play-by-play was when Johnny Benson was leading in the Pennzoil No. 30. That 1996 Brickyard 400 was won by Dale Jarrett, and I believe that was the year that kissing the bricks was inaugurated.
My post-race assignment was interviewing winning team owner Robert Yates. As I recall there were lots of stairs to get from the main press box to the one in the infield.
I went back to the Brickyard 400 every year through 2000 as a guest. Of course, most of the personalities have changed in those 15 or 16 years since I first attended the Brickyard 400.
Editor’s Note: Longtime motorsports enthusiast and NSSN contributor Al Robinson suffered a stroke last May. Al is currently continuing his recovery at Elderwood Care Facility in Waverly, N.Y., where he is dictating his racing memories to New York-area track announcer Carol Houssock.
A fundraiser to benefit Robinson is being planned at Shangri-La II Motor Speedway May 11-12. Donations may be sent to the Spalding Foundation for Injured Drivers, Inc. c/o Betty Sherwood, 1074 Sulpher Springs Rd., Owego , N.Y., 13827. Please write”Al Robinson Fund” on the check comment line.BREAKING NEWS: SPEED SPORT is back in print with a new monthly format! Subscribe for just $24.95. Special offer for former subscribers.