Bruce Martin
Tuesday December 23rd, 2008

KOONTZ LAKE, Indiana -- When the Indianapolis Motor Speedway announced that it was shutting down the "Brickyard Crossing" motel last week, it drew little attention, lost in the shuffle of other motorsports layoffs, race cancellations and drug testing announcements.

But to those who understand the history of the world's most famous Speedway, it's the end of a sometimes colorful era.

Opened in 1963 just off the second turn of the massive 2-1/2-mile oval, it was known as the "Indianapolis Motor Speedway Motel" for most of its existence. At the time of the Speedway's opening, no other racing facility had its own motel located on the property so that only the elite of racing stayed in the convenient confines.Some of the greatest names in auto racing history stayed at the motel.

In 1963, Indianapolis had earned the unflattering nicknames of "Naptown" and "India-noplace" because it was a city that rolled up the sidewalks at 5:30 p.m. The only decent restaurants in downtown Indianapolis were St. Elmo's and the King Cole.

The King Cole is long gone, replaced by a slew of fine dining options, and St. Elmo's remains as the city's signature steak house, serving an impressive clientele of high-profile visitors to the city.

Prior to the advent of the Brickyard Crossing, many drivers, team members and fans stayed in nearby homes in the community of Speedway, Ind., because there were so few hotel rooms available to accommodate 300,000 fans.

While the downtown area was undergoing a renaissance that began in the mid-1980s and continues today, the old motel at the Speedway was beginning to show its age. By then, it started to take on the appearance of an old Howard Johnson's with standard rooms where the housekeeping staff still put the strip of paper across the toilet seat that said "Sanitized for your protection."

The Indianapolis 500 was still the biggest sporting event on the planet and the guest list during May included team owner Roger Penske and A.J. Foyt, the first four-time winner of the Indy 500. While Penske could certainly afford more luxurious accommodations, there was no place he would rather stay during the month than at the motel. It was part of the tradition that makes the Indy 500 perhaps the most tradition-laden sporting event in the United States.

By the late 1990s, however, time had passed by this motor lodge like the front-engine Roadster. The rooms were dank and musty-smelling, and in the wintertime the thermostat only had two settings -- very hot and intolerably hot.

It was during this time when I spent many nights at the motel, not only because it was convenient, but its rates were down-right cheap. During the downtimes of the year, when occupancy was low, it was a place to get some peace and quiet until the garbage trucks arrived at 5 a.m. to bang the dumpsters around like the Purdue University band member who bangs "The World's Largest Drum" on race morning during the "Cavalcade of Bands."

And then there was "The Flag Room," a watering hole where regular patrons had such nicknames as "Tires" and "Jonesy" and the cries of "Surf's Up -- Bakersfield Beach, 40 miles as the Crow Flies" could be heard while another round of long necks was being ordered.

During May, however, "The Flag Room" was a prime spot, especially during Race Week, when former 500 winners such as Jim Rathmann and Parnelli Jones would sit at a table talking about the good old days of their glorious racing careers. Other drivers, such as Al Unser, Bobby Unser, Johnny Rutherford and Mario Andretti, would stop by for lunch or dinner.

The motel was featured prominently in the 1969 motion picture Winning starring the late Paul Newman and Robert Wagner. The two were rival race drivers on the same team in the Indianapolis 500 when Wagner, in the role of Luther Erding, decided to make love with Newman's wife, played by his real-life wife Joanne Woodward.

Years later when Newman would give his guests tours of the Speedway, he would always point out the room in the film where the scene took place.

"When we first got some sponsors here after we had been racing here with Mario [Andretti], I always used to take a golf cart and drive the sponsors to the back of the Speedway Motel, and I would stop for a minute and point to a room and say, 'And that's where my wife shacked up with Robert Wagner,'" Newman recalled in an interview I conducted in 2007. "I'd let that comment sit there, and deep silence and embarrassment would fall over everybody. Then 10 minutes later I'd say, 'Oh, in the movie I meant.'"

The motel also had its share of NASCAR stars on the guest list, including the winner of the Inaugural Brickyard 400 in 1994.

At that time, Jeff Gordon was a fresh-faced driver in his early 20s and he made history by winning the first-ever NASCAR race at the Speedway. After all the pictures were shot, media interviews were held and celebratory appearances had been made, Gordon and his first wife, Brooke, went back to their room at the motel and decided to order a pizza from Domino's.

He called the pizza delivery company to order a ham and pineapple pizza and was told, "It's going to take about two hours to get the pizza delivered because there was a race there today."

Gordon responded, "I know. I'm the driver who won the race."

Once he had convinced the Domino's employee that he was indeed Jeff Gordon, the pizza arrived much sooner than two hours.

There were many occasions during IndyCar testing that I stayed at the motel. The sound of the first IndyCar roaring through the second turn would serve as my personal wake-up call because the noise was so loud it sounded as if the Space Shuttle were about to land in my room.

It was just one of the many experiences that made this lodge so unique, so charming in a dank and dirty kind of way. But as the years passed, it became more obvious that IMS officials had to come to a decision. The motel had to be renovated or razed. And in tough economic times, the Speedway announced last week it was closing the motel and would begin razing the facility.

Officials hope to one day reach an agreement with a major hotel chain to build a new, modern facility at the same location. But that project will wait until economic conditions improve.

So the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway Motel, aka the "Brickyard Crossing" has become a thing of the past, joining the likes of the riding mechanic, treaded race tires and the front-engine Roadster.

It's history.

When Mauricia Grant announced she was filing a lawsuit against NASCAR for sexual and racial harassment, NASCAR officials vowed they would "not settle" with the former Nationwide Series official. But that's exactly what happened last week when the two sides agreed to arbitration, putting this whole sordid episode to rest.

Of course, details of the agreement were not announced and both sides are bound to a confidentiality agreement regarding the settlement. Also, neither side admits to any wrongdoing.

From NASCAR's standpoint, to get closure on this incident couldn't have come at a better time. It's the middle of the offseason and the settlement came a week before Christmas, when few people are paying attention to the sport.

When the season begins at Daytona in February, this incident will be a mere afterthought, but if NASCAR and Grant had not settled in a timely fashion, it would have been a lingering story throughout 2009 and even into 2010, before a trial would actually take place.

"She needed closure," said Benedict P. Morelli of the New York legal firm Morelli Ratner PC. "She's a young woman, and when you make the sort of allegations she did, it's difficult to move forward and get on with your life. She's very, very happy with the resolution. And I don't think NASCAR wanted to leave it out there. They wanted to put this behind them, as well."

Hopefully, NASCAR can now take the necessary steps to ensure that every member of its organization, including its traveling band of pit road inspectors, fully understands the law and its consequences when it comes to sexual and racial misconduct.

NASCAR's heritage is deeply rooted as a "Man's Sport" of the Old South. While the series has taken great strides toward diversity, there are still remnants of an old way of thinking in the garage area and on race teams.

The time has come to move away from such outdated thinking and move forward with the times to prevent such an episode from ever happening again.

Another sign of the times for NASCAR will come in early January when mandatory drug testing of its drivers and crew members will begin for the first time. Prior to the new policy, NASCAR operated under a "reasonable suspicion" policy.

NASCAR will test drivers for performance-enhancing drugs next month under a tougher policy that also bans using illegal drugs and abusing prescription medications. The tests will take place the third week of January for drivers. Crew members must submit results from an approved lab by Jan. 16.

Everyone will be tested before the season begins, and random testing will continue throughout the year. NASCAR expects to randomly test 12 to 14 individuals per series each weekend in 2009.

A memo was issued on Dec. 8 and was specific on what is banned and subject to testing.

Those who must be tested before Jan. 16 include: pit crew members, including "over-the-wall" crew members, the crew chief, car chief, team members responsible for tires, fuel and pit crew operation, spotters and race-day support personnel that includes engineers, engine tuners, shock specialists, chassis specialists and tire specialists.

Among the substances those participants must be tested for are:

• Seven different amphetamines, including methamphetamine and PMA, a synthetic psychostimulant and hallucinogen. • Three drugs classified under ephedrine. • 13 different narcotics, including codeine and morphine. • Ten different benzodiazepines and barbituates. • Marijuana, cocaine, zolpidem, nitrites, chromates and drugs that can increase specific gravity. No such list exists for the drivers, but spokesman Ramsey Poston confirmed NASCAR will test for performance-enhancing drugs.

It's the toughest standards ever set by NASCAR and it falls in line with other major professional sports, such as the National Football League.

This is a great program but should have been implemented by NASCAR a long time ago. But after drivers such as Aaron Fike admitted to heroin use, the series had no choice but to take a strong step forward with a new drug-testing policy.

The cancellation of the Detroit Grand Prix at Belle Isle is yet another blow to the Motor City. The IndyCar race held on Labor Day Weekend was hailed as a success after Roger Penske revived the street race on Detroit's Belle Isle two years ago. It gave native Detroiters another weekend festival before the close of summer and was very successful in generating corporate support.

But with economic conditions reaching the critical stage because of an automotive industry on the brink of financial collapse, Detroit simply could not justify its economic partnership in such an event.

Event chairman Bud Denker said with such economic conditions affecting the area, the event could not be held in 2009.

"Considering the tough times we're all experiencing, we just couldn't ask the parties to give, and give more," Denker said.

An IndyCar race in "Motor City" was a natural, but how could anything be successfully promoted in these times, especially when many of its residents will be unemployed in 2009? The future of the event will be re-evaluated for future years should an economic recovery take place.

IndyCar Series officials will also evaluate the possibility of adding another event to the now open Labor Day Weekend, but sources have indicated that team owners in the series would like to budget for 17 races next season instead of the 18 that were originally part of the 2009 schedule.

Christmas Day is always the most special day of the year as it's a chance to get together with family and loved ones and celebrate the true meaning of the holiday. It's also a chance to put racing aside and focus on more important things in life. It's great to see the wide-eyed wonderment of a youngster on Christmas morning as they discover what has been left under the tree, which is quite similar to the look in my eyes on Race Day at the Indianapolis 500.

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