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It's A Big Weekend For Storied Motor Sports


This Memorial Day weekend race fans will gather around tracks and televisions to watch some of the biggest events in motor sports. Sunday marks the 100th anniversary of the Indy 500. That's right. It was first run back in 1911.

But that's not the only big race this weekend. There's also the Coca-Cola 600. That's the longest race on the NASCAR schedule. And Formula One, the prestigious Monaco Grand Prix.

For a preview, we've reached Tripp Mickle, of the�Sports Business Journal.

Hi, Tripp.

Mr. TRIPP MICKLE (Staff Writer, Sports Business Journal): Hi. Thanks for having me.

KELLY: So let me start with the Indy 500. A lot of drama with this year's race. The most famous driver, Danica Patrick, almost didn't race. Tell us what happened.

Mr. MICKLE: Yeah. Danica's IndyCar's biggest star, but she didn't qualify for the Indy 500 on her first attempt Saturday and when rain rolled through on Sunday it looked like she might miss the cut altogether. Fortunately, the rain cleared and she snuck into the field with a speed of 224 miles per hour, which was good enough to give her the 26th slot out of 33 total slots in the race.

KELLY: Did it look like she has a shot at winning?

Mr. MICKLE: It's not impossible, but 26th is a long way from first. More than likely it'll be one of IndyCar's top two teams - Chip Ganassi Racing or Penske Racing. Ganassi's car's the better in qualifying. And its driver Dario Franchitti won the race last year. Penske has won the race 15 times. So it certainly knows what it takes to get to the winner's circle.

KELLY: I'm guessing there must be tremendous excitement about this. I mean, the Indy 500 is a huge deal in Indiana already and this marking the 100th anniversary of the race. What's it going to be like to be in a crowd there?

Mr. MICKLE: The race has lost a little bit of its national appeal in recent years, but it's still a huge event in Indiana. More than 300,000 turn out. And...

KELLY: 300,000?

Mr. MICKLE: Yeah.

KELLY: 300,000 - wow.

Mr. MICKLE: And they basically turn the track into a small city for the day. And the event's steeped in tremendous tradition. There are bagpipers. They sing "Back Home in Indiana" before the race. And at the end the winner usually drinks milk and kisses the bricks. It's just got a ton of pageantry.

KELLY: Now, we should mention you are not actually in Indiana right now. You're in North Carolina, where there is another big race this weekend. This is the NASCAR race - Coca-Cola 600. Tell me, generally speaking, how is NASCAR doing as a sport? Its ratings were off for a while.

Mr. MICKLE: The last few years have been tough for NASCAR. It saw its ratings decrease by about 25 percent over the last five years. And the recession hit its fan base particular hard, causing a lot of them to stay away from the track and causing attendance to soften a bit.

But this year's been off to a strong start for them. They had a relatively unknown driver named Trevor Bayne win their biggest race - the Daytona 500. And they've really seen interest in the sport increase ever since then.

KELLY: Now, I want to move on. We mentioned there is a third big race this weekend. This is the glamorous Formula One Grand Prix in Monaco. And, you know, Formula One is such a big sport around the world. Up there with soccer in terms of having some of the highest paid athletes, some of the highest paid owners. Formula One, though, has never quite taken off in the States. Why is that?

Mr. MICKLE: It really hasn't. And part of the reason is it can be hard to understand. It's a bit Eurocentric. There hasn't really been a great American driver since Mario Andretti was competitive in 1978. And for that reason and the fact that there's not really a race here, Formula One just hasn't captivated Americans the same way NASCAR and the IndyCar series have.

KELLY: Thanks so much, Tripp Mickle.

Mr. MICKLE: Thank you for having me, Mary Louise.

KELLY: Tripp Mickle covers motorsports for the Sports Business Journal. He's been giving us a preview of three big races set for this weekend.

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This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.