Race Weekend Central

More Than Just a Race

One cannot help but reminisce whenever NASCAR Nation visits Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The sacred aura of the facility and the sense of history one feels when they enter the gates to Gasoline Alley make the Brickyard 400 one of those truly landmark events. Winning at the Brickyard means etching one’s name in ledger of motorsports accomplishments. This is what Kyle Busch did this past weekend in Indiana when he swept the pole positions and checkered flags in both the XFINITY race on Saturday and in the Cup race on Sunday.

Such dominance is the stuff of sports legend, but – for me – the idea of legend and history at Indianapolis takes a much more basic, and personal, shape.

One might say my idea of Indy legend is more concrete than abstract:  as in the form of two bricks that once paved the two-and-a-half mile track surface of Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

How I came to receive these two bricks is directly related to how I began dating the beautiful woman who is now my wife. Like so much else connected to Indy, the story involves family ties, hard work, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and good luck. Of all the artifacts I’ve collected over many decades of working in-and-around motorsports, these two scarred and well-worn bricks are the centerpiece of my possessions.

It all began with a cottage remodeling project in Michigan.

My now-father-in-law and brother-in-law are builders who do a lot of summer home and vacation cottage construction. For this one particular job, almost twenty years ago, they were hired to re-build a patio that was beginning to show the signs of aging. I guess the cottage’s owner liked the distressed look, but wanted this outdoor area to be more stately and substantial. The pavers initially used were breaking away, and it seemed like bricks were a better way to go. While new bricks would produce a nice patio, their finish would look too clean; the owner wanted bricks with a patina of age that would better match their family’s treasured old vacation property.

My now-father-in-law began searching for the appropriate bricks and found a place in Indiana that dealt in used (what we today call “repurposed”) building materials. When he traveled to Indiana to buy the old bricks he needed, he noticed a pile that seemed especially worn. Asking the yard foreman about these pavers, my father-in-law was told that the weathered bricks were actually quite historic.

The bricks once paved the track surface at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

My father-in-law called home that evening from the road, and he mentioned the Indy bricks to his daughter. The daughter thought of a racing historian she knew at work and how he might be interested in seeing one of the historic pavers. She said she’d ask him the next day.

The builder’s daughter (now my wife) asked the historian (me) if I’d be interested in getting an old Indy brick. The thought of owning a piece of early-auto racing history that had been driven over by the likes of Barney Oldfield, Ralph DePalma, and Eddie Rickenbacker was too good to ignore, so I said that I’d love to have one, if possible.

To show my gratitude for her consideration, I offered to take the builder’s daughter to dinner. The rest, as they say, now nearly two decades later, is history.

I thought of this story last Saturday afternoon while sitting on my father-in-law’s front porch in Northern Michigan and listening to the XFINITY race. I thought about it again when I saw a tweet from Goodyear Racing with a photo of the famous “Yard of Bricks” that Kyle Busch and team kissed Sunday after their dominating win. The yard of bricks is all that remains of that early surface.

Except for a couple pavers located in Michigan. Of the more than three million bricks used to initially pave the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, I own two of them. They are great sources of personal pride and deeply heartfelt value.

Just like my wife and her family.

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