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Indy Makes Vroom For Stock Cars

THE plan to hold a stock-car race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway next year is a welcome development for what is surely one of America's most underutilized spectator facilities.

The speedway traditionally buzzes with activity in May, when the Indianapolis 500, held Memorial Day weekend, caps a month of time trials and practice sessions. Otherwise, since the early years of this century, the complex has largely stood quiet.

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Interestingly, when the 1987 Pan American Games were held in Indianapolis, some of the cycling races were held on the famed 2-1/2-mile oval. Forty years ago there was talk of a stock-car event, but the speedway's owner rebuffed the stock-car folks. Now, the owners are eager partners.

The sight of stock cars at Indy may seem a little odd - like finding softball at Yankee Stadium. But it's hard to imagine that the new "Brickyard 400" won't be a success. Indy fans know racing, and the new event, scheduled for Aug. 6, 1994, two months after the 500, should provide aficionados enough time to re-whet their race-watching appetites. And although the average speeds of stock cars are much slower than Indy's open-cockpit racers (about 160 miles per hour, compared with 220 m.p.h.), stock-car eve nts generally offer more bumper-to-bumper action.

In a trial of sorts last June, the speedway invited nine top NASCAR racers to conduct test drives on the track. More than 30,000 nonpaying spectators showed up. The NASCAR folks have been aggressively promoting their circuit in recent years, and in mass-marketing terms, the Indy invitation is well timed.

Next year's race was cleverly conceived to avoid stepping on the 500's toes. The shorter distance provides a distinct identity and can be manageably packaged for TV. Using "Brickyard" in the name, meanwhile, plays on the speedway's grand tradition as a former all-brick track. Today, only a three-foot strip of the original brick is exposed at the starting line, while the rest of the track - known as one of the smoothest racing surfaces in the world - is paved with a special asphalt mixture. Rockies set lofty attendance records

Partly because their new stadium is still under construction, the Colorado Rockies have strolled into baseball's major league record books, establishing two all-time attendance marks during their very first weekend series in Denver.

Given civic euphoria over landing an expansion franchise, a string of sellouts was almost assured. And that meant big numbers from the start, given the team's temporary home: Mile High Stadium. Playing in a stadium built for football (as played by the Denver Broncos), but temporarily reconfigured to suit baseball, the Rockies drew a record 80,227 spectators on opening day and set a new series mark of 212,475 for a three-game series. The latter total broke the old major-league mark of 188,081 set by Cleve land against the New York Yankees in 1948.

While Colorado now holds the attendance record for a regular season game, the biggest American crowd in baseball history was the 93,103 who attended a Dodger-Yankee exhibition in 1959 in another temporary ballpark - the Los Angeles Coliseum. The biggest baseball crowd ever, however, occurred at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, where 120,000 watched two amateur American teams play an exhibition game. Denver's disarming basketball promotion

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In what surely ranks as one of the most unusual attempts at socially responsible sports promotion, pro basketball's Denver Nuggets encouraged fans to trade in firearms for free tickets to last Sunday's game against the Phoenix Suns, this season's winningest National Basketball Association team.

To sweeten the deal, which grew out of meetings with a mayoral task force, the Nuggets included food and souvenirs. The team reserved 500 lower-priced seats for the Operation Cease Fire giveaway, but only 47 guns were turned in - no questions asked - at the four inner-city churches designated as collection points. Nonetheless, the team had not anticipated a large response this time and said that even getting one gun constituted a success. Several other NBA clubs have indicated an interest in possibly con ducting similar promotions.

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