The Indianapolis 500: 5 Steps To Return the Race to Glory

David BurnettCorrespondent IMay 22, 2011

The Indianapolis 500: 5 Steps To Return the Race to Glory

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    INDIANAPOLIS - MAY 27:  Scott Dixon, driver of the #9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara Honda, leads Dan Wheldon, driver of the #10 Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara Honda and Sam Hornish Jr., driver of the #6 Team Penske Dallara Honda, during the IRL IndyCar
    Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

    For decades, there was no debate that the Indianapolis 500 was indeed the world’s greatest race.   The race drew the largest crowd, paid out the most money and often lured the world’s best drivers to handle the world’s fastest cars.  Today, lots of people will argue about the prominence of the 500.  Even worse, many others don’t care at all. It is truly heartbreaking to witness the decline of the event dubbed the "Greatest Spectacle in Racing."  As this iconic race marks its 100th anniversary, there are steps that can be taken to restore this once unparalleled auto race to its former glory. 

Raise the Speed Limit

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    Arie Luyendyk holds Indianapolis 500 speed record 237 mph
    Arie Luyendyk holds Indianapolis 500 speed record 237 mphDavid Taylor/Getty Images

    The late Indianapolis Motor Speedway announcer Tom Carnegie, who died earlier this year, made the words, “A new track record!,” world famous.  Because speed and danger have always been the chief attractions at the huge, narrow and scary track, The Indianapolis 500 should immediately lift the speed limit.  

    The cars are artificially limited to a top speed of about 230 mph.  IndyCars are capable of the fastest speeds in all of motor sports and can go much faster.  So let's see just how fast these cars can go. IndyCars can safely reach speeds approaching 250 miles per hour or more at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  Why not go back to setting speed records?  

    The current speed record is 237 mph, which was set 15 years ago by two-time winner Arie Luyendyk.  Speed is one of the main ingredients that made the Indianapolis 500 the world's most important race.  Make speed an important component once again.   

Pay the Winner $10 Million or More

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    2010 Indianapolis 500 Winner Dario Franchitti
    2010 Indianapolis 500 Winner Dario FranchittiNick Laham/Getty Images

    One of the first steps the Indianapolis 500 should take in restoring the glory of this great race is to increase the purse both overall and the winner’s share.  If in fact this is the hardest race to win, the payout to the winner should underscore that fact. 

    The winner of the Indianapolis 500 should receive no less than $10 million. Ten million dollars would go a long way toward making clear that this race is indeed the most important race not only in America, but the world.  The footprint of the Indianapolis 500 was outsized from the very first race in 1911, the legend grew each year, which is why the Indianapolis 500 became universally famous.    

Raise Profile of All IndyCar Drivers and Events

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    Alex Tagliani 2011 Indy 500 pole winner
    Alex Tagliani 2011 Indy 500 pole winnerJamie Squire/Getty Images

    Another major step that must be taken in helping regain the public profile of the Indianapolis 500 is to re-introduce the core drivers of this race and of the IndyCar series to the motor sports public.  No disrespect intended, but Danica Patrick should not be the first driver the casual fan knows who is an Indy 500 driver.

    Spend whatever it takes to promote all of the drivers with the strongest possible marketing and public relations campaign and make sure to keep them in the racing series. Former Indy 500 champions Dan Wheldon and Buddy Rice are no longer series regulars, because of a lack of sponsor dollars. Keeping accomplished drivers in the IndyCar series and at the Indianapolis 500 should be a priority.  

    Also, IndyCar should not be a stepping stone for drivers to go to other racing series.  It sounds simple, but getting back to the basics is what the Indianapolis 500 and IndyCar must do.  The event, and its sanctioning body have become defensive and tentative about selling its drivers.  No way should the Indianapolis 500, its drivers and its exotic cars take a back seat to NASCAR and the technologically inferior machines those drivers race.  This will help eventually create an unavoidable buzz about the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.  

Negotiate Deals with Other Racing Sanctioning Bodies

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    Grand Prix of Monaco
    Grand Prix of MonacoMark Thompson/Getty Images

    Negotiate a deal with Formula One to insure that F1's prestigious Grand Prix of Monaco never conflicts with the running of the Indianapolis 500. 

    For many years, the two events were usually spaced about two weeks apart.  This allowed Hall of Fame, Formula One drivers like Jim Clark, Jackie Stewart and Graham Hill to make a run at winning the Indianapolis 500.  Clark and Hill won the Indianapolis 500 in back-to-back years in the 1960s.

    Also try to get NASCAR to move its 600-mile race in Charlotte to Monday of the Memorial Day weekend, which might encourage a few of NASCAR’s best to try to win Indy.  All-time NASCAR great Cale Yarbrough and his brother LeeRoy raced at Indianapolis for several years in the late 60s.  

Expand the Race Field

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    INDIANAPOLIS - MAY 30:  Helio Castroneves of Brazil, driver of the #3 Team Penske Dallara Honda, leads the field at the start of the IZOD IndyCar Series 94th running of the Indianapolis 500 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 30, 2010 in Indianapoli
    Robert Laberge/Getty Images

    I know that “33” is a cherished number at Indy, but expanding the field to 40 or 45 cars will allow more drivers from other racing circuits, like NASCAR and Formula One to compete in the Indianapolis 500. 

    There was a time when he Indianapolis 500 had those other drivers. It should have them again.  Further, 33, was not always a magic number, there have been several years in the past where there have been many more than 33.  In fact, the first race 100 years ago had 40 drivers. Forty-two cars started the race in 1933. Those races went on as scheduled and worked out just fine.