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Rookies feel Indy's magic: Young drivers understand Brickyard is a special place


INDIANAPOLIS - The first time Derek Jeter stepped into the on-deck circle in Yankee Stadium, the butterflies swarmed in his stomach. When Craig Krenzel crouched in the huddle and called his first play at Ohio Stadium, he got chills despite the early September heat. Those same feelings will overtake the Nextel Cup rookies at the Brickyard 400 here this weekend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. They, too, are on hallowed ground. For the first time as competitors, they are at one of the most sacred sites in their sport, and they know it.

Kasey Kahne, Brian Vickers and Brendan Gaughan will bend over and reverently touch those fabled bricks. They will slowly turn in a circle, taking in a panoramic view of the most famous racetrack in the world. They will be humbled by the place, the aura, the spectacle, and the ghosts.

Vickers was almost distracted by it all when he tested his car at the Speedway recently.

"There's a lot to this place - a lot of history here, and it was a pretty neat experience to drive here. But I almost missed turn 1," Vickers said. "I was just kind of taking in the energy of the place and the scene, the grandstands going down both sides and all that."

Kahne said the baptismal run around the Indy track is an experience that is hard to match.

"When I came in here for the first time, I just rode around for six or seven laps and just got to feel the track out," Kahne said. "It's just a different place. It's a pretty neat place and it's a track that I've always gone to and watched, and watched races from here on TV. It would just be an awesome track to run good at."

Gaughan, the son of Las Vegas hotel and casino magnate Michael Gaughan, knows a little bit about big shows and major productions. He got a taste of the Indy magic a few years ago when he worked as an instructor for the Richard Petty Driving Experience, and took a 50-year old man from Indiana who had been close to the speedway his whole life for a lap around the storied track.

"I'll never forget it," Gaughan said. "It's the first time ever he's on the track and we come out of turn 4 and even my eyes are big and I look over and this guy's jaw is just to his chest, and his eyes are as big as dinner plates. I've done maybe one lap on the track at this point.

"When I told the guy that was my first time at Indy, too, the guy almost had a heart attack," Gaughan said. "You come out of turn 4 there and you look at the front straightaway and it's the narrowest front straightaway that you've ever seen. Grandstands all the way up one side and grandstands up the other side, and it becomes a tunnel. It's a fun place."

Kahne, with six top-five finishes this season, is the top rookie in the Nextel Cup Series and is currently 12th in the points race. With a background on the dirt tracks in his home state of Washington, Kahne always saw the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as the promised land he hoped to one day reach.

"This is a great racetrack and someplace I think every guy out there running sprint cars probably dreams about racing on," Kahne said. "It's a tough track, and it's a track where we've got to really work on getting the car balanced.

''This is probably the biggest race of the year. Daytona was big, but we were just getting started on the season there."

Gaughan said he has had a lengthy, long-distance relationship with the Brickyard.

"I grew up watching Indy cars," Gaughan said. "Daytona is what it is in the NASCAR ranks, but in America, Indianapolis is Indianapolis. Going back, thinking about all the great drivers here . . . it would mean a lot to go to Indianapolis and get a victory. There is no bigger place probably in the world.

"I've been to Indy as a fan with my father, and now I'm here as a driver," Vickers said. "This is different than any place that we go to and that's one thing that I like about it. It's unique, a lot of fun, and it's very fast," Vickers said.

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