AMA Grand National at Indianapolis

There's more than just MotoGP action going on’s Indianapolis Grand Prix correspondent Bruce Allen took a break from the MotoGP action at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and made his way to the Indiana State Fairgrounds to watch the AMA Grand National. As he discovered, the setting was quite a change from the Brickyard, but the action was just as exciting.

Having spent the day Saturday at the Motor Speedway watching qualifications, I shuffled off to the Indiana State Fairgrounds last night to watch the AMA Grand National. The contrasts between MotoGP at the IMS and AMA at the Fairgrounds could not be more stark. Think 747 vs. DC-3.

  • At the Speedway, there are uniformed “helpers” everywhere, ready, willing and able to answer questions. At the Fairgrounds, I stumbled around for 20 minutes looking for someone to direct me to the media center.
  • The media center at the Speedway is a massive air-conditioned room surrounded by glass, four stories up in the air, with perhaps 200 TV monitors, 2/3 of which are dedicated to posting standings and lap times. At the Fairgrounds, the media center is a mildewed concrete bunker beneath the “infield stage”, a concrete slab rising four feet in the air and lacking even a simple railing to keep erstwhile racing reporters from falling on the heads on the sidewalk below.
  • At the Speedway, it is possible to know the situation of every rider – how many laps he has completed, fastest lap, highest speed to three decimal points, current standing, etc. At the Fairgrounds, the only information available is who’s running, who’s winning and, at the end, who won.
  • At the Speedway, riders arrive with their entourages and live like kings. At the Fairgrounds, riders arrive with their families and stay in their motor homes in the infield.
  • MotoGP riders are salaried by their teams, with many of them making millions of dollars a year. The winner of the feature race last night at the Fairgrounds received a check for $7,000.

One more thing the MotoGP race had that the AMA Nationals didn't: Kawasaki Racing girls.The crowds were only marginally different, the fans at the Fairgrounds were more cruiser-oriented – more ponytails on the men, more tattoos and more drunks. The drunk part could be because the cruisers run at night, while the imports run during the day. While the stands at the IMS figure to be half-empty today, the AMA race was close to sold out, and the crowd seemed to enjoy itself thoroughly.

As to the race itself, the GNC Twin class was dominated by Harley-Davidson. The 25 lap main event included three crashes, each of which necessitated a re-start. The first was very early in the race, and the last two occurred during the final 5 laps. The re-start procedure resembled a Chinese firedrill, in that the riders and their bikes pull off to the side of the track and get 4 minutes to fix up their bikes for the remainder of the race. They were allowed to do anything to the bike they want in the allotted 4 minutes, which makes for some hectic moments. Then, the crews vacate the track, the riders are arranged in a complex starting grid, and off they go again. There are no yellows, and no finishing the race under an adrenaline-killing flag, such as occurs with NASCAR and Indy cars.

Ken Coolbeth edged out Chris Carr to win the AMA Grand National flat track race at Indianapolis.Early in the race, Bryan Smith took the lead, and spent most of the race defending it against Ken Coolbeth and Chris Carr; all three riders were on Harleys. On the re-starts, the three played musical chairs and swapped positions several times. Unlike auto racing, the re-starts did not permit trailing riders to catch up and challenge for the lead. Each time they re-started, the same three riders emerged and ran away from the field. On the last re-start, it came down to Coolbeth and Carr, who entered the final turn side-by-side. As they floored it down the main straight, the grandstand went absolutely nuts. They crossed the finish line in a blur, hugging their handlebars, Carr beating Coolbeth by roughly six inches. And that was that.

There was a brief, rather awkward, somewhat home-grown podium ceremony after the race. The two obligatory Podium Babes, clad in very skimpy black and pink hotpants. Carr and Smith, who finished second and third, respectively, didn't seem as happy to be on the podium as the MotoGP riders do. AMA riders love what they do, that’s for sure, but they would probably love it even more with the millions of dollars.

Today, I’m back at the Motor Speedway. We will have full race results tomorrow.

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