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From the Marbles

Indianapolis short track now enters uncertain NASCAR future

Geoffrey Miller
From The Marbles

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CLERMONT, Ind. — Pat Rebb isn't sure what the Kiwanis Club of Avon will do next season. Rebb, a member, stood underneath the sweltering main grandstand ahead of Saturday night's Nationwide Series race at Lucas Oil Raceway waiting for the 50/50 raffle winner to claim their prize.

"The track rotates us groups around, and we end up making lots of money for the Kiwanis," Rebb said.

Next year, Rebb and the nearby Kiwanis chapter won't — unless something changes — have the same opportunity to raise funds in the sea of race fans. NASCAR has moved the July Nationwide Series date at LOR a few miles east to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, meaning Saturday night's race won by Brad Keselowski could be the last NASCAR event ever at LOR.

"I have no idea what we'll do," Rebb said, adding that the $2,000-$3,000 they'll raise Saturday will fund a majority of the Kiwanis' annual budget. "We heard about it on TV and just thought, 'Oh my gosh!'"

The race is moving, in part, to be a band-aid for the struggling Sprint Cup Series Brickyard 400 at the "big track" and officials hope it'll improve attendance at the venerable venue.

It's a move that race fan Van Reed, 39, doesn't plan to make with NASCAR. Reed, who lives about two hours from LOR in Columbia City, Ind., sat at the top of the Turn 1 general admission hill in a lawn chair before Saturday night's race with his father Lawrence, his 12-year-old son and his son's friend. They had staked their claim on the hill full of lawn chairs and blankets at 10 a.m. Saturday for the 7:30 p.m. race.

Reed said he had been coming to the .686-mile bullring for about 10 years, catching each event of the Kroger Speedfest that, this year, included Thursday's ARCA Racing Series and USAC sprint car action and Friday's NASCAR Camping World Truck Series event. The short-track racing is the appeal and that's something IMS can't offer, Reed said.

"I like being here, seeing the young guys come up," Reed said. "[IMS] has the nostalgia, but that's it."

His father was more to the point.{ysp:more}

"You have to watch the screens over [at IMS]," Lawrence Reed said, noting the size of the Brickyard. "Here I can see the whole track. I can go home and watch the screen."

The resentment of the move can be found most anywhere around LOR — the track formerly known as O'Reilly Raceway Park and Indianapolis Raceway Park — but there's also those in the NASCAR industry who see the positives of NASCAR racing alongside the Sprint Cup Series next season at IMS.

"It's interesting to me as an owner because this is the first time I've really encountered this," Dale Earnhardt Jr. said of the move. "I'm excited because I can probably sell that race. I can't sell the [LOR] race to a sponsor."

NASCAR's most popular driver owns two cars in the Nationwide Series this season, the JR Motorsports No. 7 and No. 88 entries. LOR, a small venue on the NASCAR scale, seats about 30,000 and has a capacity for about 40,000.

36,000 people showed up Saturday night according to NASCAR.

"I can only sell races that are with the Cup guys in conjunction," Earnhardt said. "I'm excited about that, that I'll be able to come [to IMS] and probably get a good deal for this race that will help me financially for the team."

But don't get Earnhardt wrong. He's not sold that the trade-off is worth it for the sport in general.

"I'm not sure whether taking away another short track is the way to go because I think short-track racing is some of the more exciting racing that we have in any series, really," said Earnhardt.

The product of the exciting racing doesn't come without negatives, however. Short-track racing in the NASCAR world is by-and-far a tougher sell because of grandstand capacities that are smaller and tracks that can often feature aging facilities. LOR isn't immune to those criticisms, seeing as it doesn't even have a garage area and grandstand sight lines require the team haulers to move outside the track during the race.

But those knocks on LOR are countered by several points that are both advanced and quirky in a good way. Within about the last decade, LOR completely overhauled its main grandstand and suite capabilities with a modern structure. Additionally, the track's variable banking from the apron to the wall could be considered ahead of its time in this era of larger tracks using the same principle.

And certainly, there's no faulting the racing at LOR that features passing available both in the low and high grooves.

Still, the fact remains that NASCAR won't be competing at LOR in 2012 and has no announced plans to do so in the foreseeable future.

"There's a lot of honor and tradition that goes with [this race] that we'd love to keep," said Saturday night's race winner Keselowski. "Hopefully we work out something where we can do that.

"[Short-track racing] is a big part of our sport and hopefully we can find another way for this race track to get another race."

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