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Brickyard Has Been an Easy Sell : Auto racing: Rain wipes out the second day of qualifying and threatens today's race.


INDIANAPOLIS — Forbes magazine, recorder of the world's financial fortunes, said in its July 3 issue that "America's fastest-growing professional sport" is NASCAR stock car racing.

Sports Illustrated, on the cover of a recent issue, echoed Forbes by calling it "America's Hottest Sport."

That's not just among motor sports, but all sports.

NASCAR hopes to show why it deserves such lofty praise today at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where it will present the second Brickyard 400, race No. 19 in the 31-race Winston Cup series.

Rain may interfere today, however. Showers wiped out the second day of qualifying Friday, and the forecast is for heavier rain today. If the race is rained out, it will be rescheduled for Sunday.

The Daytona 500 is still NASCAR's No. 1 event among traditionalists who remember when stock car racing was for bootleggers showing off their fast cars on sweaty Sundays around dirt tracks in the Deep South. But the Brickyard, with its more than 300,000 spectators--more than double Daytona--and its $4.5-million purse, is the corporate world's modern-day successor to the Good Ol' Boys era.

Last year, when it was the first time anything but Indy cars had raced on the 2 1/2-mile rectangular oval built in 1909, the Brickyard 400 followed the tradition of the Indianapolis 500 by selling out its 310,000 seats.

NASCAR rose to the occasion by presenting a spectacular race won in a fingernail-biting finish by Jeff Gordon, a fresh-faced second-year driver from Pittsboro, an Indiana farm town a few miles down the road. Skeptics who believed that the low banking of the speedway would contribute to a dull race were proved wrong.

The Brickyard lived up to its hype; it was one of the year's best races.

An economic impact study conducted by Indiana University showed that the race brought $31.5 million into the city's hotels, restaurants and souvenir shops.

All reserved seats for today's race were sold out within days of last year's.

Gordon, who was something of a surprise when he won last year, is back as the glamour boy of Winston Cup racing. He has won five races, eight poles, $1,667,995 in purses--not counting the $40,000 he earned Thursday by winning the pole for today's race--and holds a 78-point lead over Daytona 500 winner Sterling Marlin in the Winston Cup standings.

A 12-foot high picture of Gordon's face, being kissed by his wife, Brooke, a former Miss Winston, looks down on the main highway leading to the track. His picture has been on the cover of every newspaper, magazine, special section and race flyer in Indiana. He has been the focal point of almost every TV news and sports program all week.

"I know people around here must be getting tired of seeing my face, hearing my name and listening to my voice," Gordon said, "but I've enjoyed myself tremendously this week.

"I just want everyone to know that there's a lot more to the success of our team than just me driving. Ray Evernham and the crew have given me a horse that wants to be ridden, and right now I'm going to ride it till it stops."

Evernham, crew chief for the No. 24 Chevrolet Monte Carlo owned by Rick Hendrick, said, "Rick gives us the bullets, we aim the gun, but Gordon pulls the trigger."

Gordon qualified on the pole with a one-lap record of 172.536 m.p.h.

Alongside him on the front row of the 41-car field is Bobby Hamilton, his Pontiac bearing the No. 43 made famous by Richard Petty, now a car owner. Marlin, Gordon's closest pursuer in the points race, is in another Chevrolet in the second row along with Bill Elliott, in the fastest Ford.

Dale Earnhardt, still in contention to win a record eighth Winston Cup championship, will start from the 13th position, but the man they call the Intimidator reminded fellow drivers that he has won from a lot farther back than 13th. Earnhardt, who has only two victories this season, is third in the series standings, 68 points behind Marlin.

When rain eliminated second qualifying attempts, it ended the hopes of 60-year-old A. J. Foyt of putting his purple Ford in the show.

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