The most important day in the history of the complex and contentious relationship between NASCAR and Indy wasn’t the day the stock-car boys arrived.
It wasn’t the famous tire test that so many drivers dreaded or the first Brickyard 400 that so many Indy and NASCAR purists hated and hate to this day.
No, it was long before that.
The red-letter date was May 13, 1954. That was the day Bill France was kicked out of the garage while mingling with old friends and associates inside Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Security guards confronted the NASCAR founder and told him he had to leave “on orders from the front office.”
And in that exact moment in time, the two racing bodies declared war on each other.
Through the years, there was always an uneasy undercurrent as Indy stars A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti came down and won at Daytona and as the Wood Brothers went to Indy and helped Jim Clark win the 500 in 1965.
There was always a suspicion that started with the American Automobile Association that ran open-wheel racing in the United States in the 1950s. AAA chief steward Harry McQuinn famously said, “We have a long-standing disagreement with NASCAR on what constitutes good racing.”
Those were fighting words then and now.
So this weekend’s detente of IndyCar and NASCAR sanctioning bodies, though conveniently forced by COVID-19, is looked on as being both historic and necessary.
And barring unforeseen developments, it will also highlight what the old folks knew way back then and the new NASCAR fans know now. Cup racing at Indy is awful. It doesn’t fit. It was never meant to be.
France and McQuinn are likely rolling in their graves this week, but they have been since 1992 when Goodyear held a tire test at Indy with nine Cup drivers. France actually died two weeks before the tire test.
The two-day session was wild as Dale Earnhardt and Rusty Wallace took over the single-car testing format and convinced Bill Elliott, Davey Allison, Terry Labonte and everyone else who was there to “race” each other, which they did, putting on a show for some 30,000 curious spectators. Earnhardt and Allison used the grass as their own lane to pass cars.
It would be the only time Allison would race at Indy. He died in 1993.
When the test ended, most people believed that would be it for NASCAR at Indy.
Kyle Petty said it just wasn’t right.
“I’m a purist,” he said. “I don’t think Indy cars should come to Daytona, and I don’t think that we should go to Indy and race. A tire test is one thing, but they don’t play polo or croquet at Augusta, and they don’t race dogs at Churchill Downs.”
He was right, too.
The day Big Bill France was kicked out Indy, he went home and began plans to build his own track.