Indy a track where rookies know nothing


Brian Vickers nearly found himself in the wall his first lap around Indianapolis Motor Speedway. And that was during a routine jaunt, with no one else on the racetrack.

If he had hit the wall, it wouldn't have been because he was pushing his luck. It would have been chalked up to Indy's mystique.

"(I was) just kind of taking in the energy of the place and the scene, the grandstands going down both sides and all that," he said. "It was a neat experience."

Though rookies experience a lot of firsts during the season, racing at a particular track isn't usually one of them. They've normally raced at a Darlington or Daytona or Chicago -- whether it be in a truck or a Busch car -- before.

But at Indy, the Brickyard is reserved only for the best. Busch and Truck Series competition takes place down the road. The storied IMS has only three races a year: The Indy 500, the only U.S. Grand Prix F1 event and the Brickyard 400.

So for the rookies, thoughts of winning might creep into their heads, but simply racing at the track is a dream.

"That's probably the biggest race of the year," said Kasey Kahne, top candidate for Nextel Cup rookie of the year. "Daytona was big but we were just getting started there. I'm looking forward to it. It's a great racetrack. It's a track that I've always went to and watched and watched on TV. It would just be an awesome track to run good at."

For Kahne, the first lap around Indy wasn't enough for everything to sink in during his test session.

"I rode around there for six or seven laps and just got to feel the track out," he said. "It's just a different place. It's a pretty neat place and it's really fun to be able to do that."

Rookie Brendan Gaughan actually has a few laps on the rest of the rookie class. Though there are only three races at Indy a year, there is another event taking up track time -- the driving experiences. And Gaughan used to be a teacher for the Richard Petty Driving Experience.

He said his first time around this place was amazing. And the bewildered customer riding shotgun was pretty shocked, too.

"The first time that I was giving a ride I got a passenger, a 50-year-old man from Indiana that had watched the speedway his whole life," he said. "I'll never forget it. The first time ever he's on the track and we come out of turn four and I've done maybe one lap on the track and I've got this guy in the car and there's three of us all doing a Richard Petty ride.

"Even my eyes are big and I look over and this guy's jaw is just to his chest, eyes are as big as dinner plates. When we finished I said, 'Man, that front straightaway is cool and the way you come out of turn three.' And he goes 'What do you mean?' And I told him that was my first time, too, and the guy almost had a heart attack."

Gaughan said hopefully that'll give him a leg up on his fellow rookie class.

"I got rid of some of that awe," he said. "You come out of turn four there and you look at the front straightaway and it's the narrowest front straightaway that you've ever seen. Grandstands all the way up one side and grandstands up the other side and it becomes a tunnel. It's a fun place."

The image of that scene has been stuck in rookie Scott Riggs's mind for some time, now. He's driven Trucks and Busch, but he's never gone racing at IMS.

"I always hear other drivers talk about having fans on both sides as you shoot down the frontstretch," Riggs said. "I've already had so many new experiences as a Raybestos rookie this year, but this weekend is sure to bring about even more.

"It will be a pretty neat feeling," offered Riggs. "The track carries so much history and tradition. I remember when I was little and watching the winner drink milk in Victory Lane. I never thought I'd be in a position to compete there one day."

Rupen Fofaria is a freelance writer living in Chicago and a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at rfofaria@espnspecial.com.