The race is on to secure the last remaining rides for this month’s Indianapolis 500. There is no official limit to the number of car and driver combinations that can participate, but most of the attention centers on seven open rides that would bring the field to 33.

Let me ask you: does anyone care about the Indianapolis 500 anymore?

When you start to use words like “venerable” and “institution” your days of being relevant is over. The only reason that you’re being discussed is because you’ve managed to survive and still be around, not because of your impact on your field (read: has anyone actually listened to an Aerosmith album?).

Now, I’m strictly a casual sports fan. I don’t live and die by a team (or else the Pacers and Colts would have caused me to slit my wrists years ago), but I’m the exact kind of person that leagues want to attract. No league can survive solely on the backs of its hardcore fans (read: hockey, will someone put you out of your misery?). You’ll have them no matter what you do. Ratings and relevance is all about drawing people like me.

I know nothing about racing politics, but people talk about the split between the IRL and CART as the thing that drove nails into the coffin of open wheel racing, giving the sport a hit similar to what strikes did to baseball and hockey. The fact of the matter is that most of the well known folks have either retired or become irrelevant. However, given the worldwide popularity of Formula One and the insane popularity of NASCAR, there’s no reason Indy car racing shouldn’t be more popular. (Not that I’ve ever gotten it: if I want to watch fast traffic drive in a circle with the possibility of wrecking–and don’t lie: it’s the possibility of wrecks that hold our fascination–then I’d hang out at an I-465 overpass.)

There will always be a certain amount of magic to the name Indianapolis 500, but if you want to return the race to something close to its former glory, or even surpass it considering the popularity of racing right now, you need to focus on two things: driving and drinking.

1. Driving. The sport needs stars. Danica Patrick could be the sports salvation, provided that she actually wins. The NBA rode the shorts of Michael Jordan to the heights of popularity and is still scrambling to fill the void that he left. The IRL/CART split robbed the sport of a lot of its stars and it needs to groom more. And, if I may be frank, it needs to groom American stars. Pretty boys or women who can be used to market the sport and capture the public’s imagination.

The sport could stand a jolt or two from rivalries or at least a few cantankerous personalities. The casual fan is drawn to drama, and drama needs good guys, and more importantly, bad guys. Pretty boys and bad boys. Any sport is driven by storylines and right now there is a definite dearth of anything remotely interesting about the sport. Which is exactly why the sport needs Danica (probably more than she needs the sport).

2. Drinking. A few years ago, the folks in charge of running the Indianapolis 500 decided to clamp down on all the things that made the race fun. The tales of night before the race debauchery was legendary. The Monday morning news stories of things done and left in the infield were priceless. However, this wasn’t the image that the powers that be wanted. They wanted to remove the party atmosphere and bring about a more family friendly atmosphere. So good-bye went the glorious history of the “Snake Pit,” with its streaking, flashing, and more than occasional fights. The police, who had essentially given the party-going folks room to have fun, cracked down on the drunken displays. I hate to break it to you, but the misadventures of the crazy folks in the infield was usually the most interesting part of the Indy 500.

The party aspect helped give the Indianapolis 500 its edge, so I say embrace the spirit of what the race should be about and bring back the Snake Pit. While I don’t miss the one way traffic that tied up our side of town for the whole day nor the random folks who’d stop to piss in our yard, we couldn’t get enough of drunken redneck comedy. If folks are serious about bringing back the crowds and relevance of the Indianapolis 500, they need to remember that they can do family friendly stuff all month long, but the race itself needs to be a party.

Bring back the Mid-western Mardi Gras.

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