NASCAR eroding Indy's greatness

INDIANAPOLIS -- I wish this had been the last Brickyard 400.

I wish the crass erosion of this hallowed ground would cease, and the damage could be limited to the horrid gullies already washed into the traditions of Indianapolis Motor Speedway by NASCAR.

But no, hell, no, the strip-mining of this place's dignity goes on and on, like the garish droning of the cars that stumbled round and round again on Sunday, in the 18th running of motor racing's answer to a herd of buffalo stampeding down the hardwood hallways of a palace, slipping and sliding.

This sluggish event, won by Paul Menard in a gas-mileage crapshoot, ended Indy's centennial era, 100 years since the first Indianapolis 500 in 1911.

And with Indy's century ends its greatness.

NASCAR has never belonged here, and it never will.

It took the American public a while to figure that out.

But Sunday's second straight Brickyard crowd of barely 100,000 makes it undeniable that the thrill is gone. (I don't care what the official estimates were. I've been coming here since 1975, and I've learned to read these, the most massive grandstands on the face of the earth, pretty well.)

Sunday made one thing certain, for what it's worth now: The Indy 500 stands again as the biggest race at this place, having drawn 250,000 in May. Time was when the Indiana State Police estimated nearly 400,000 for the 500, but that was when it was the only race here each year.

That was before NASCAR came pillaging.

When you think about it, NASCAR is at the root of all the evils that have befallen Indy since the mid-1990s.

Never would the fallen prince of Indy, Tony George, have split up Indy car racing if not for war chests filled with ticket and TV revenues from the NASCAR race here. He once admitted as much to me.

So the 400 is the race that gutted the Indy 500 of its prestige, and nearly destroyed major open-wheel racing in America all together.

And with NASCAR came all its commercial vulgarity, e.g., the practice of selling traditional race names to corporate sponsors. Indy, which had never remotely considered selling the name of the Indianapolis 500, profited for some years by calling its NASCAR race the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard.

Next July the strip-mining of Indy's dignity will only intensify, with a so-called "super weekend" of racing that really amounts to a cluster of minor league support events.

The good news is, Sunday really did mark the last Brickyard 400 by that name. The bad news is, the torture will continue next year under the most awkwardly commercial race name ever in American motor racing: The Crown Royal Presents "Your Hero's Name Here" 400 at the Brickyard.

No offense to the American military or American heroes in general, but a paid promotion for whiskey by whatever inserted name is still a paid promotion for whiskey.

On the old Formula One course, they'll add to the weekend an event for Rolex Series Grand-Am cars, the poorer of two poor series for sports-car racing in America.

But wait! There's more! They'll also run -- are you ready for this? -- a Nationwide Series race.

No offense to the American military or American heroes in general, but a paid promotion for whiskey by whatever inserted name is still a paid promotion for whiskey.

With a slate like that for 2012, you have to wonder what they'll add to prop up the 400 of '13 here.

How about a demolition derby? A figure-8 track down near the short chute between Turns 1 and 2 would be cute. While they're at it, why not throw in 100-milers for the bomber class, junkers, street stocks?

In degrading this once-hallowed place down to dirt-track level, they could also add a hell-driver auto stunt show on the front straightaway. Simultaneously, they could run drag races down the backstretch.

Maybe they could shoot a guy out of a cannon into the upper decks of the grandstands. (With events like the ones they propose for next year, they could fire a cannon of any kind into the grandstands and not hit anybody.)

This year they threw in a big muscle-car conclave and show -- including all those antiquated winged Chargers and Plymouth Superbirds from NASCAR circa 1970 -- down near the fourth turn. Local hotel parking lots were turned into hot rod shops each evening.

With that in mind, they might as well steal the big annual biker shindig from Sturgis, S.D., and bring it to the infield here.

Where is Humpy Wheeler when they need him? Come to think of it, even Humpy might be mortified by the "super weekend" here next year.

The NASCAR community keeps swearing its everlasting love and awe of Indy.

Well, then, why have they degraded it, even stabbed it in the back?

If they worship Indy so much, then why did they stick a new Cup race just down the road at Kentucky Speedway, just a few weeks ago, to suck the discretionary dollars out of race fans along the Ohio River? This, to go with draining off fans via Kansas Speedway and Chicagoland Speedway, tracks built in the region since the Brickyard 400 began in 1994.

NASCAR has managed to devastate and nearly destroy the prestige of the Indianapolis 500, and now as NASCAR's own popularity dims nationwide, it drags the Brickyard 400 down with it.

I wish the Indianapolis 500 could be, as it was from 1911 to 1993, the only motor race held here each year.

Those years, it was the greatest race on the greatest track in the world. But that was before NASCAR came.

Ed Hinton is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at edward.t.hinton@espn.com.