Apparently there has been much ado over whether or not Jeff Gordon’s five Brickyard 400 wins are an equal or greater accomplishment than A.J. Foyt’s, Al Unser Sr.’s, and Rick Mears’ four Indianapolis 500s. I congratulate Jeff Gordon on his five Brickyard 400 wins and I think that he wrote a new chapter in motor sport and Indianapolis Motor Speedway history but I don’t think that five Brickyard 400 wins compares to four Indianapolis 500 wins. I have a lot of respect for Jeff Gordon as a racer, having followed his career since first watching him on Thursday Night Thunder but when I look at the question objectively I just can’t rate five Brickyard 400s the same as four Indianapolis 500s (and I would say the same for Michael Schumacher’s five F1 wins at the Indianpolis Motor Speedway).
First, the Brickyard 400 isn’t the same level of a race that the Indianapolis 500 is. The Brickyard 400 is just another race in the NASCAR season, it doesn’t have the heritage or worldwide reputation as a great race that the Indianapolis 500 does. While the Indianapolis 500 rates up there with the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Grand Prix of Monaco, the Dakar Rally, and the Daytona 500 the Brickyard 400 just doesn’t.
Second, the Brickyard simply isn’t as good a race as the 500 is, and I don’t come to that conclusion from the perspective of NASCAR v. IndyCar. The stock cars simply aren’t suited for racing well at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway so you rarely get races that are exciting over the length of the race. On the other hand, open wheel race cars are more suited for the design of the track and put on a better show over the course of a race.
Third, the Indianapolis 500 is a 500 mile race, not a 400 mile race. It may not sound like that big of a difference but 100 miles makes a big difference in terms of strategy, dependability and endurance. A 500 mile race is often more difficult to win than a 400 mile race. The extra distance adds a degree of difficulty to race strategy. 500 mile races are harder on the equipment, both cars and engines and are harder on the drivers as well.
Finally, when you consider the eras that the four time winners of the Indianapolis 500 won in, it was considerably more difficult than winning five Brickyard 400s or even four Indianapolis 500s in this modern era of racing. A.J. Foyt and Al Unser Sr., and to a lesser degree Rick Mears, raced in a far more dangerous era than Jeff Gordon has. In the 60s and early 70s when Foyt and Unser were winning most of their 500s, death and serious career ending injury was commonplace in motor sport. Racing has been much safer during the period Jeff Gordon has won his five Brickyards.
By the way, as a sports car fan, I have to add – Wake me up when someone wins nine Brickyards or 500s to equal Tom Kristensen’s nine 24 Hour of Le Mans wins… (just joking)