For racing royalty, the impact of the Indianapolis 500 hit home in a letter. After Mario Andretti won his first and only Indy in 1969, he received fan mail from a region not known for its turbocharged engines: Tibet. "I've traveled six continents in my lifetime," says Andretti, the only man to win the Indy 500, Daytona 500 and Formula One world titles. "Everyone knows Indianapolis."
Over the past 15 years, NASCAR's rise and a counterproductive turf war between Indy and CART, a rival racing circuit, has put the Indy 500 behind the pack. The presence of Danica Patrick, who raced her first Indy 500 in 2005, saved it from near irrelevance. But Indy's organization is stronger now. And NASCAR's popularity has sputtered, giving Indy a chance to recapture the glory days.
Open-wheel cars are awesome machines, automotive engineering as art form. Stock cars have a common-man appeal; racers used to take cars from the showroom to the track. You can envision the sexier Indy cars connecting with a new generation of fans, though the sport could use more compelling personalities. But Indy has no shortage of history. "It's Americana," says Andretti. Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines.