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Controversy, tragedy at 1996 Indy 500

Controversy, tragedy at 1996 Indy 500
Controversy, tragedy at 1996 Indy 500
Posted at 4:14 PM, May 08, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-08 16:14:09-04

INDIANAPOLIS -- Big changes in the sports world made headlines in 1996.

The Indianapolis Indians began their spring playing their final games in Bush Stadium on 16th Street. Their new downtown home, Victory Field, was just about done, and they finished out the season there. 

Further down the street at 16th and Georgetown, months of controversy came to a head at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The 80th Indianapolis 500 was the first under the newly formed Indy Racing League.

Most of the top teams and drivers boycotted the race, calling it a lockout of CART teams by the IRL. Those rival teams staged their own race the same day: The US 500 in Michigan.

As a result, the Indy 500 was full of rookies, looked upon by fans a group of replacement drivers and bringing the prestige of the race into question. Arie Luyendyk was the only former winner in the field and there were no former national champions in the field for the first time since 1928.

Scott Brayton

Scott Brayton was one of the few vets in the race, with 15 total races under his belt. He qualified for the pole at more than 233 miles per hour.

Sadly just six days later while testing a backup car, Brayton hit the wall and was killed.

His death cast a dark cloud over the rest of the month. 

With Brayton's passing, Hoosier and future 3-time NASCAR champion Tony Stewart moved into the pole position in his first 500. Stewart was the fastest rookie ever to qualify and on race day he led a total of 44 laps before his engine blew. He would ultimately still be named Rookie of the Year. 

The ultimate winner was one who overcame adversity to even be in the race: Buddy Lazier. Lazier drove to Victory Circle at an average speed of 147.956 miles per hour just two months after breaking his back in a racing accident.

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