TEXT OF INTERVIEW
Kai Ryssdal: Indy Car racing goes to Milwaukee this weekend for a race called The Milwaukee Mile.
If you’re thinking right about now, “Wasn’t the Indy 500 last weekend?,” yes, it was. The Indy Racing League’s about more than just Indianapolis, though and after a decade-long internal feud, the IRL’s trying to steer itself straight ahead.
Diana Nyad is here to talk racing with us. Hey Diana.
Diana Nyad: Kai, what’s going on?
Ryssdal: Not so much. Indy Cars, though, this past weekend. I watched. Did you watch?
Nyad: I watch, yeah. As a matter of fact, the very first job I ever had in sports broadcasting was with ABC’s “Wide World of Sports.” They said to me, “We’re going to send you to the most exciting moment in all of sports: the Indy 500. You won’t work it, we just want you to meet all the announcers, have a good time…”
Ryssdal: That’s cool!
Nyad: And I’ll tell you, in the 1970s and up through the 1980s, that was a big crowd and it was one of the most exciting moments in all of sports. It’s come down from there.
Ryssdal: And that’s actually a little bit sad though, really, ’cause it’s such a marquee event.
Nyad: It is, but I guess, you know, if we could look at boxing, we could look at horse racing, I mean, how many sports can stay there all that time?
Ryssdal: But IndyCar has had it’s troubles. They had a feud; they’re back together now. Still, sort of not doing really well.
Nyad: Well, you know, you could say that 250,000 people, which is about who showed up at Indianapolis last Sunday is a pretty good crowd. It’s the largest crowd at any single sporting event in the world, so I don’t think too many other sports or events would cry about that.
Ryssdal: What does it say about the sport though, about the future of it, when it can really be summed up in one word: Danica, or two words, maybe: Danica Patrick, and some of the biggest names in it are names from the past — you’ve got former winner Bobby Rahal’s son Graham, you’ve got Marco Andretti, grandson of Mario Andretti. I mean, that can’t be any kind of a basis for the future?
Nyad: First of all, let’s forget Danica for a minute because she is IRL racing right now. She’s the queen; if she’s racing, you’re going to watch and they’re going to get big numbers. But for the rest of the juniors and we go down to A. J. Foyt IV, actually, I don’t think that’s a negative thing. There are plenty of people my age who that’s one of the reasons we tune in, we say “Oh, that’s cool!” All these sons and grandsons and pretty soon, it’s going to be great-grandsons are racing. What a tradition, just like the Petty brothers were in NASCAR. It keeps generations around. It keeps the father and the son and the daughter going out again.
Ryssdal: And excellent segue as a matter or fact. NASCAR… When you think racing in this country, not too many people probably think IndyCar racing. They all think NASCAR because it’s the most popular thing going.
Nyad: It is and one of the things it has going for it is that it’s all American good ol’ boys, all the time. Now you would think that diversity is what we’re into in this country, but we have shown as fans that when we watch tennis, golf, anything else, we love it when the Americans do well. 20 of the 33 starters at the Indy 500 were foreign born. The winner is foreign born. So we just don’t like that.
Ryssdal: What then is the answer for this sport? How do they fix what ails them?
Nyad: You know, I think two or three years ago, they were in crisis and they were saying, “Where do we go? How are we going to mount this thing back up?” But now, they’ve got a five rating, which isn’t the worst rating in the world for… I mean, Major League Soccer doesn’t come anywhere close to that and they feel like they’re on their way to something. So I don’t think the guys at Indy Racing are feeling like they’re in a losing proposition. It only costs $4-5 million to run a contenting car, compared to NASCAR — $20 million a year — so there are young people coming up wanting to get in the sport and as long as they have Danica, they’re still smiling all the way to the bank.
Ryssdal: All Danica, all the time. The Business of Sports with Diana Nyad. Thanks Diana.
Nyad: Thanks Kai.
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