45 years ago today, May 25, 1969, I attended an event that marked the start of a love that endures to this day and is totally unexplainable to some.
I went to my first Indianapolis 500.
I was 9 years old....and a girl....and I would most likely rather have been reading a book. In fact, I did have a book with me, although I have no idea what it might have been. We were living in the Indianapolis area and Papa was a serving in the US Medical Corp. I was more likely concerned on a daily basis with getting on the bus whithout Pilot Man splashing (deliberately I might add) mud on my tights. Or perhaps playing with my next door neighbor. We were an odd couple who might be found on a nice afternoon cutting tunnels in the grass with scissors so that we could make paths for our dolls.
And then there were the endless hours of singing showtunes in her basement.
But I digress.
I know that we sat in the infield on this particular day. That I do remember. And there were A LOT of people...but not nearly as many people as attend now. At least I do not think so but then younger kids never really have a sense of how many people are in attendance at a big event. I think we drove into the infield parking area in a van but I do not remember whose vehicle that we went in. I remember, as if it were yesterday, sitting on a folding chair and looking around at all these people and wondering what the heck was going on.
The pace car came past with 33 cars in it's wake. So loud! So much excitement! Once around. Twice around.
And then the checkered flag and life changed for me. A nine year old girl who really, even today, could care less about how a car works just so long as it works. But by the end of that day in 1969 I was hooked. I couldn't yet tell you which engine was in which car just by the sound of the engine. Nor did I understand yet why the car was shapped as it is and what all of the different parts did, why adjustments of a fraction of an inch can make the difference between first and second place. I did not know that there is a fully functioning hospital in the infield, staffed with the best physicians and nurses that can be found, with the sincere hope that they will NEVER be needed. I had no idea at that time that the drivers all start with the same amount of fuel and tires and there is no borrowing either. I did not know at that time what the rules were whether under the green or the yellow or, heaven forbid, the red flag. I knew nothing other than that I loved this thing called Indycar racing with a passion that made no sense. That passion has endured through 45 years.
I have had the privilege of attending "The 500" 5 times in total and ever time has been an truely unique and special occasion. And on the years that I have not attended I have watched. It has been many years since I have been to an Indy, since college years I believe. HHBL would tell you that in very large and highly packed crowds.....
I do not do all that well.
People in my personal space make me as jumpy as a Democrat in a room full of Tea Party members. But if anyone EVER offers me the chance to again attend an Indy 500 I will get over that phobia and right quickly I can promise you that.
Race well gentlemen and woman (there is one competing). Race safely.
My heart is already beating faster than usual and there is still at least 20 minutes before the classic "Gentlemen, start your engines!"
Indiy 500 I will love you forever.