Day 2: Indy 500

William as a weatherman! Reporting live from Indianapolis May 2004.

Day 2: Sunday, May 30th, began by waking up at 3.45 and leaving the house at 4.15. I was headed to Indianapolis; today I would drive 350 miles  and the drivers I was watching would drive 500.  This would be by my eighteenth 500; I have been attending them since moving to the Midwest in 1991 and I have only missed only two. I was not going to miss this one or be late. I am always awed driving south on I-65 out of Chicago. At that early hour, the sun is rising and the fields are open and wide. I am driving through corn, soybean, and wheat territory and the slight rolling hills leave an open horizon. The sun coming up is wonderful and I am listening to my Marketplace podcasts – catching up from the hectic week. Midway between Chicago and Indianapolis, I come up a wind farm that stretches from the west to the east and is at least two or three miles thick along the interstate, perhaps more. I do not recall it from last year’s trip.

As I approach Indy, I get a text from brother, Warren, in Houston. He wants to know if I am on my way to the race. He’s watching F1 from Turkey at home and wants to catch up with me. One of the sad by-products of summer vacation is that I don’t get time to talk to him as often as I do during the school year. During my commute we often chat about what is happening at school (for me) or work (for him), our kids, our wives, or simply what we are doing to survive being middle-aged men in today’s world. We share similar interests much more similar than when we were young and still living at home with our mom. Sometimes we talk about our hobbies or other times we just talk about our relationships. It is always good to catch up – this morning is no different. We will be travelling to Paris in a couple of weeks to fulfill our dad’s last wish – to be spread at a cemetery in northern France. We’ll get a week to walk, talk, and share our dreams while exploring Paris. Of course we’ll have Julie my step-mother, David my youngest brother and his wife Trish along on the trip and it will make dad’s last journey the closure on the path that began almost year ago. I was hoping it would be just the brothers and Julie – but David is David. Just as I am who I am. Warren’s call is a welcome diversion and we talk, laugh, and make our predictions for the race – I pick Helio, Tony K, and Danica to finish and win. He picks Helio, Franchitti, and Tagliani to finish and win. The wager is the sum total of finishing positions with lowest total winning. The loser buys a cup of coffee for the other in Paris. Either way we are both winners.

I am meeting my brother-in-law – Tim, nephew – Alex, niece – Molly, niece’s boyfriend – Eli, and a friend of my brother-in law – Jim Bob, and his son – Ben for the race. We have been going together since the beginning when I was invited along in ’91. Tim has been going for at least 50 years. His dad, my father-in-law, originally introduced Tim to Indy in the late fifties and proxy, included me, through my wife, Beth. Though the mix of people has changed over the years Tim, Jim Bob and I have remained somewhat constant. Also coming in the group is William, my son. This will be his seventh race – how is that possible? They are coming from Versailles, Ohio the family home. Beth and the kids left Friday after school to visit with Grandma and Grandpa and I stayed home because we didn’t want my cough to get Grandma sick like what happened at Christmas this year. I am not sure whether I am headed home to Wheaton or home to Versailles after the race – but I am prepared – I have a change of clothes just in case.

Indy always starts with a frenzied drive to Indianapolis and the nerve wracking winding drive through back roads to get to our parking spot. There is always breakfast at the Speedway Motel and then off to Indy to our seats. In years past it was a mob as close to half million people wanted to be a part of the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing” but times have changed. This is 95th running of the great race and it is always fun to watch and be a part of the scene. The weather always plays a factor – sometimes it rains, sometimes it is cold, and sometimes, like today it is blistering hot and humid. Then there is the anticipation of the race – the visits to the souvenir stands and the calls by William of ‘I want,’ and the waiting. Though this year he knows what he wants, – a Danica jersey and an Indy hat – he has already selected it but we just have to find it. We need to fulfill my daughter, Olivia’s request – she’s been once and isn’t included in this year’s trip. She wants a Danica car and a t-shirt. As we enter the track, we go under the turn two tunnel and walk toward the museum. We walked as a group of seven – Alex decided not to come after all and we had an extra ticket. It was easy walking as the crowd was lighter than in years past. We shared stories and laughs of previous races – William’s first race in 2004, the  day it rained and had his picture taken with a weather channel reporter, about the crowd and how it is the same, visits to the Museum when it rained or when it was just so hot you needed to cool off before the race. It was Eli’s first race and we tried to give him a feel for the place – there is just so much to take in and if you have never been to a race or Indy before the Brickyard can be overwhelming.

Soldiers Amrching on pit lane
Veterans marching down pit lane before the race.

William and I peeled away from the group and visited the Boy Scout troop camping in the infield. The Boy Scouts sponsored a car #19 driven by Alex Lloyd and even though it wasn’t a likely choice to win, we were rooting for it anyway.  We stopped at Danica’s trailer and looked over the possibilities. William settled on a jersey; I got Olivia her car and her t-shirt and we were off. We passed by a few more merchandise trailers and peeked but didn’t find what we were looking for so we kept going. We walked under the main straightaway tunnel and got to edge of the Penthouse Terrace seating. It is a long climb to the top and we always get our souvenirs before the race starts – you don’t want to miss any action on the track. We made our final purchases and headed to our seats. It was very hot and we walked slowly for two reasons: the race was a couple hours away and walking slowly conserved energy. We got to our seats and began setting up our scanner for the race frequencies of the drivers and just taking in all of the track activity. Cars were being brought out into the pits, equipment was being brought out and tested, and cars were circling the track with celebrities and former drivers. There was always something to keep you focused on what would happen when the green flag waved to start the race.

William - a Danica fan
William on raceday with the pagoda and the scoring pylon in the background. It was very hot and humid!

Time passed and gradually our seats became shady and a bit cooler and the time race came. We settled into our seats and began to pay closer attention to the racetrack. The soldiers being introduced and circling the track and marching down pit lane, driver introductions, the traditional songs: “America, the Beautiful,” “God Bless America,” our national anthem – “The Star Spangled Banner,” and the last song “Back Home in Indiana” sung by Jim Nabors and the release of the balloons. The race was ready to begin. The command, “Ladies and Gentlemen, start your engines” was given and the front straight away with thirty-three engines and over 300,000 people roared to life. William and I donned our headsets and waited in anticipation as the cars took their parade laps. Finally, the cars came through turn four and made their way down the front straight heading for the checkered flag to start the 95th Indianapolis 500. It was not long before our first caution – car hit the wall and was done for the day – not even one lap complete at full race speed! I pulled out the Indianapolis Star front page and marked off our first car out of the race – marking the car, the lap, and the reason.   A few caution laps and the wreck was cleaned up the cars were ready for the green flag and we were racing once again. A few laps later we were at lap 10 and we marked our leaders – top 3: #10, #3, #6. We kept track on the tens throughout the afternoon at lap 20, lap 30, and so on. It kept us in the race as we watched our drivers and rooted for Danica and Sarah – two of William’s favorite drivers. Sarah Fischer was his first race t-shirt back in 2002 and he has been rooting for Danica since her first race in 2005. I was rooting for Helio hoping he would win his fourth. The laps passed and were down to the final few laps and it began to get exciting as drivers who had been in the top 10 were making the final push to lead the last lap and cross the finish line first. Helio was fourth – Dario was behind him – and he was trying to turn a risky fuel strategy into a win. Unfortunately, he had to pit and Dario took the lead for the final time and was able to cross the finish line first. Danica followed him to finish sixth which was a pretty good. I lost to Warren and I owe him a cup of coffee! William and I hustled out of the stands in another tradition – to get back to our car – and get started on our journey home. Tim and his crew had left earlier during lap 190 or 191, I am not really sure when, and I was in charge of William. We walked back to my car and waited for the traffic to let us out and soon, though not soon enough, we were on our way back to Versailles.

Day 2 counted – we had fun and enjoyed the Indianapolis 500. I have eighty more. I am not counting; I am trying to make them count.

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