SPEEDWAY, Ind. — Winning at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway appears to require an appreciation of its history and prestige above all else. Thus it helps if you go into the race hailing from Indianapolis or within close distance of the Racing Capital of the World.
Drivers often talk about the added benefits they get when driving at places they see as their home tracks — call it a home field advantage.
And similar to other historic sporting venues like Fenway Park, Wrigley Field or Lambeau Field, Indianapolis Motor Speedway has unique properties that benefit those who know it best, something that was again on display on Sunday when Ryan Newman won his first Brickyard 400.
In fact, outside of the remarkable run of four wins by California native Jimmie Johnson, Hoosiers (either naturalized or honorary) have won the race seven times in 20 seasons.
Newman joined his boss and teammate, Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon as Indiana natives (Gordon was raised in Pittsboro) to have won the biggest race that NASCAR offers in their home state.
Newman says his love affair with cars and mechanical engineering would have attracted him to Indianapolis but conceded that his heritage definitely helped.
“I would have an appreciation for this track even if I had been born in Hawaii,” Newman said following the race. “It helps growing up here and growing up around it but I’m just a fan of cars. I’m a big fan of tires and making the cars go faster and that’s happened here since 1909.
“I appreciate that.”
Stewart says that both he and Newman exchanged stories about their respective childhoods and rushing home from school in May to watch the festivities surrounding the Indianapolis 500. The three-time Sprint Cup Series champion called it “a dream to race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway” and that both he and Newman understand what it means to win here.
So it seems that an admiration and respect for the Speedway is a must for any driver that envisions himself going to victory lane at IMS. In the IndyCar ranks, it is said that the Speedway often chooses her winners — which is somewhat cliché — but the first 20 years of NASCAR racing at the Brickyard has supported it too.
Even the 2011 Brickyard winner, while not a Hoosier, shares that reverential respect for the Speedway. His family has been so instrumental in supporting the Indianapolis and the IndyCar Series, making it seem that he is yet another example of success at IMS being bred from an initial understanding of what makes the event so special.
So while it still takes an extremely talented and competitive team to challenge for wins, the path to IMS glory is littered by those who have studied extensively in what made it so special in the first place. It’s either that or moving to Indiana, hopeful winners.