(workingonmyredneck file photo)
Once a year, late into the summer, NASCAR rolls into the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Brickyard 400 Sprint Cup race.
To the racer and race fan, Indy is the “holy grail”, the most hallowed of race tracks, the maker of legends, and a legend of its own. To describe the meaning of Indy is almost indescribable. Indy is like the high school beauty that you were afraid to ask out for a date, very intimidating. It is like a 21st century cougar, enticing you to do something that you know will haunt you forever. All the while, Indy demands respect from all who have ever attempted to conquer the track.
For 35 years the Menard family has tried to conquer this facility. For most of those years it was John Menard, Paul’s father and billionaire owner of the mid-western home improvement store, Menard’s, who owned Indy cars and failed to win the Indianapolis 500. However, on Sunday Paul Menard tamed the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and won his first Sprint Cup race of his career.
As a team owner and sponsor, building supply magnate John Menard spent two decades, not to mention many millions, trying to win the Indy 500. Menard invested in engines such as the Buick V-6 turbo and the Old Aurora, and drivers like a young Tony Stewart, who finished sixth at the Brickyard on Sunday when his fuel mileage gambit fell short.
Menard’s Indy car teams won three poles at Indy and a season’s championship with Stewart, but never the big prize at the big racing plant at 16th and Georgetown Rd. “We didn’t have any success with those engines,” he said, “but by God we were fast.”
One of those pole days turned tragic when Menard’s driver Scott Brayton suffered a fatal accident at Indy during practice after recording one of the fastest pole-winning times in the Brickyard’s history. Menard’s team was so dominant in qualifying, Stewart moved over to the pole in another Menard entry powered by a Buick V-6 turbo. But as was too often the case, Stewart’s Buick blew up.
But this year the Menard family fortunes changed. As has become the trend over the last few years, the Brickyard 400 has become a race that relies very heavily on fuel mileage. This year was no exception for the winner.
Driving with sponsorship from his father’s company, Menard’s, in the Richard Childress Racing Chevy, Paul Menard first outfoxed Jeff Gordon and then out-raced him.
“I’ve always been a low-key guy,” said the 30-year-old Menard, who kept his cool by saving fuel for the majority of this final stint, knowing that guys loaded with full tanks of gas and riding on fresh Goodyear tires were hunting him down as the laps clicked off.
It wasn’t that long ago, shortly before he began driving stock cars on the short tracks of Wisconsin, that Menard watched Gordon win the inaugural Brickyard 400 in 1994 aboard the DuPont Chevy. At that time Gordon was a wunderkind that many people doubted was worth the bonus team owner Rick Hendrick had paid him to snatch him from the clutches of Ford.
This year, Menard watched Gordon in his rear-view mirror as the laps wound down with the race on the line. “He was catching us two or three seconds a lap,” said Menard, who got the word from crew chief Slugger Labbe that he had enough fuel to run flat out to the finish with just three laps remaining. Menard concentrated so hard that he didn’t notice the race was over. “Was that the checkered?” he radioed his crew chief in a situation when most drivers are screaming about winning.
After Sunday’s race, it appears that Paul Menard has arrived at the Sprint Cup level.
See this for the unofficial results of the Brickyard 400.
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!