#TBT: IROC at Indianapolis

Published On December 18, 2014 » 2980 Views» By John Schwarb » #TBT, Blogs, Brickyard 400, IMS, IMS History, Indy 500

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Here’s a trivia question for the avid NASCAR fan in your life: When was Jimmie Johnson’s first win at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway?

After he/she finishes backtracking through Brickyard 400 history trying to figure out the first of Johnson’s four wins (it was 2006), you can inform that it was actually an International Race of Champions event in 2003 – a couple years before his NASCAR dominance began.

Remember IROC?

IROC racing at IMS drew big crowds during its six-year run (2002 pictured).

IROC racing at IMS drew big crowds during its six-year run (2002 pictured).

The popular series pitting drivers from different types of racing in identically prepared cars ran at IMS from 1998 to 2003 (then, in Pontiac Trans Ams). Fans loved that you could see the likes of sprint car star Danny Lasoski versus Indy car regular Helio Castroneves versus NASCAR Sprint Cup’s Dale Jarrett, among others, in a 40-lap dash.

When IMS officials first explored using the 2.5-mile oval for racing other than the Indianapolis 500 in the early 1990s, it was for a potential IROC race, not NASCAR. Wisconsin natives Dick Trickle, Dave Marcis and Jim Sauter tested IROC cars in 1992, and six years later the series arrived as a support race on Brickyard weekend.

The race drew great crowds over its six-year run and 38 different drivers competed, including five who had already won or would win Indianapolis 500s (Castroneves, Sam Hornish Jr., Buddy Lazier, Arie Luyendyk, Al Unser Jr.) and nine Brickyard 400 winners (Dale Earnhardt, Kevin Harvick, Jeff Gordon, Jarrett, Johnson, Bobby Labonte, Ryan Newman, Ricky Rudd, Tony Stewart). As it turned out, all six winners were NASCAR regulars, with Mark Martin winning half in taking the first three editions from 1998-2000.

After 2003, the IROC Series moved to other markets before folding altogether after the 2006 season. In 2012, the NASCAR Nationwide Series arrived to give fans another race over Brickyard weekend and the Lilly Diabetes 250 continues today.

But many fans have fond memories of IROC at Indianapolis, and one would imagine that a certain four-time Brickyard 400 and six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion does too – before he became that guy.

Jimmie Johnson, shown climbing from his Pontiac Trans Am in 2003, won the last IROC race at IMS.

Jimmie Johnson, shown climbing from his Pontiac Trans Am in 2003, won the last IROC race at IMS.

 

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John Schwarb

I joined the Indianapolis Motor Speedway communications team in July 2014 and love sharing stories from the World Capital of Racing, particularly its rich history. Most of my professional career has been in racing or golf, so if I'm not in the IMS media center, the office at 16th and Georgetown or milling around Gasoline Alley, maybe I'll be standing over a birdie putt at Brickyard Crossing. Follow us at @IMS or drop me a line at @JohnSchwarb and come back to the blog often for more stories.