Today is the annual running of the Indianapolis 500. I can hear you saying, "So what. It is just a car race." JUST A CAR RACE! If you can say that then you have never actually experienced the awesomeness that is the Indy 500. So, strap on your seatbelt as I give you my hommage to the greatness that is the Indianapolis 500. I don't care about any other car race but this one but I do care about this one.
It is called the "Greatest Spectacle in Racing" for a reason. What else could you say about a sporting event that is attended by approximately 400,000 people. The exact number of attendees isn't reported by the Speedway but there are 257,000 permanent seats and there are about another 150,000 people that are in the infield and other parts of the track.
Unless you have actually attended the race you can't imagine the excitement of the collective crowd as they wait for the race to begin. If you actually have a seat you arrive early to look for a place to park. There are lots that are open, that you can park in and walk the long walk to the speedway. The speedway itself sits in the midst of suburbia, surrounded by houses. There are also many people who earn some extra money on that day by charging a fee for you to park on their front lawn. Many who plan to sit in the infield arrive at the Speedway very early in the morning (like 2a) to get in line in anticipation of the opening of the gates. The lines of cars, trucks, RV's, motorcycles and other vehicles snake through the suburban streets. People sleep, people walk around keeping awake, people start their tailgate party early. The gates open at 5a and everyone genially files in, quickly finds a spot to park (they tell you where), gathers their stuff up and rushes to the area of the track that, if they are wise, they have already picked out in their head. Then the waiting begins.
You sit through high school marching bands and other prerace "stuff". If you are sitting anywhere by the pits then you can watch the frenetic last minute things. The cars are lined up on the track, 33 cars in eleven rows, surrounded by multitudes of people doing multitudes of last minute things. Then comes the moment when, if you are lucky, Jim Nabors sings "Back Home Again in Indiana" (he has only missed a year or two since 1971). The drivers make their last walk out to the cars. Then, what you are waiting for, the announcement, "Ladies and Gentlemen, start your engines!" Then the breath holding moment, have all the cars started? Are there any problems? Everyone is a go. The pace car is out on the track. The sound is tremendous. The pace car pulls out and the cars follow, weaving back and forth to heat up their tires (better traction). The cars zoom past at just under 100mph, staying in a rough approximation of the rows. Will this be the lap where the pace car pulls off. No. They go around one more time, the cars streaking past in a blur. How can they possibly go any faster (but THEY CAN!). Finally, the roar of the crowd swells as the pace car comes out of the fourth turn and pulls to the left down into the pits. You look down the track and the green flag is being waved and the race is on.
If you thought that the cars were going fast before and that the sound of the engines was deafening then you were wrong. The pace car is gone, the green flag is out and it is "horses out of the gate". The roar of the crowd (remember this is 400,000 people) is absolutely drowned out by the roar of the car engines as they jump to get out ahead of all the other cars. The cars pass so fast that you can barely see them before they are past.
Then comes the hours of cars going around and around, positions changing, cars giving out, people dropping out. I will be honest, I know that there are plenty of people that are hoping for a crash. When those happen it is spectacular to say the least. I only remember one crash that happened in front of us but I do remember it clearly.
The race finally ends, after 500 miles (that is 200 laps around the 2.5 mile track) and many hours. We all hope for a close finish but a safe one. Then it is the long trek back to your car, whether you are parked in the infield or outside. Everyone is tired, hot, sometimes wet if there has been rain, but all are full of the fun that they have had at the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.
So, lets give a great "drive safe and fast" to the men and women who are driving in this year's Indy 500. In order of position they are Scott Dixon, Dan Wheldon(previous winner), Ryan Briscoe(R), Helio Castroneves(2 time winner), Danica Patrick!, Tony Kanaan, Marco Andretti( grandson of winner Mario), Victor Meira, Hideki Mutoh, Ed Carpenter, Thomas Schecter, Townsend Bell, Graham Rahal (age 19, son of winner Bobby Rahal), Darren Manning, Bruno Junquiera, Justin Wilson, Buddy Rice (past winner), Davey Hamilton, Alex Lloyd, Ryan Hunter-Reavy, John Andretti (nephew of Mario), Sarah Fisher, Will Power, Jeff Simmons, Oriol Servia(R), EJ Viso(R), Milka Duno, Marco Mores, Enrique Bernoldi, Jaime Camara, AJ Foyt IV (grandson of winner AJ Foyt Jr.), Buddy Lazier (previous winner) and Marty Roth.
Ladies and Gentlement........START YOUR ENGINES!