Back home again in Indiana…

Photo by Kurt Bauer - Associated Press

Video of wreck here. He survived with a broken ankle. Amazing. Hats off to the engineers that design these cars. They have ot feel good about their work this morning.

That was one of the coolest Indy 500’s I have seen in a long, long time. It was a heck of a race, and could have gone several different ways right up until the final lap. Made me wish I was there. Maybe next year I can sweet talk Mrs. 20 P. into going for the 100th Anniversary race.

More pics here:

View this gallery at The Indianapolis Star: 2010 Indy 500 race action

and here: Scott Richardson Photography
I won’t be posting this week. I have some folks in town for our annual sales meeting and I’ll be pretty tied up in the evenings. See you next week!

Happy Carburetion Day!

Photo Copyright - Library of Congress - OWI collection

There’s just something special about the last working day before a holiday weekend. The sun is out, the temperature is rising, and no one gives a damn about work. All thoughts turn to the weekend, and in cubicles across America folks are jotting down their shopping lists for their stop at the liquor store that afternoon.

20 Prospect Jr. left this morning around 5am to go fishing with his uncles up in Duluth. By now they should be out “on the big lake they call Gitchi-gumi” dropping lines for Coho Salmon, and Lake Trout. Here’s hoping they land one bigger than him. I’m not the fishing kind of guy, nor am I particularly fond of being out on the big water in a little boat. No, if you are going to get me out on Lake Superior this is the kind of vessel I want to be in…

The boy returns tonight, and the 20 Prospect clan will be hanging out here in the Twin Cities all weekend doing the usual summer holiday stuff. When I get home tonight I will hang the flag out front and the games will officially begin; grilling bratwurst, sipping frosty beverages, tossing bocce balls around the backyard, etc… You know “Hot dogs, baseball, apple pie, and Chevrolet”

So happy Memorial Day to you all. If you are heading out of town, going up North to the cabin, or just chilling in the backyard hammock, be safe.

Stay tuned… for The Greatest Spectacle in Racing!

Memorial Day means one thing. Flying the flag from the front porch, and the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race. OK, two things. Maybe it was being born the day after the 1968 race, but I have always been partial to Memorial Day. It comes after a long drought of holidays and heralds the beginning of summer; the arrival of humidity, the end of school, the opening of the beaches, and pools and, all the things that make being a kid so wonderful.

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway

My first real memory of watching the race was when A.J. Foyt won his 4th in 1977. Seeing that Red Coyote made an impression on me, and forever after, this is what I picture in my mind when I hear the word “race car”…

1977 was the year that Janet Guthrie became the first woman to drive in the race, and the controversy surrounding that fact was all over the news in the lead up to the race. So much so that even a 9 year old kid was aware of it. Back then it seemed like everything in life was boys against girls, which for a nine year old boy is still pretty much true.

After watching that race (on tape delay, not that I knew) I spent the next several days trying to build my own Coyote Ford-Foyt V8 race car out of whatever I could find. Mostly my bicycle and some cardboard boxes from the barn. I’d ride that bike up and down the street pretending I was racing in the Indy 500.

In the years that followed, Dad and I would always sit and watch the race together. Dad was a Foyt fan, and we’d root against the Unser’s every year. I’d look forward to the race each year, and sit and watch, listening to the commentary by Jim McKay, and Jackie Stewart, with the unmistakable voice of Chris Economaki reporting from the pits. In those days it wasn’t a significant sporting event if Jim McKay wasn’t doing the play-by-play in a yellow sport coat.

Sadly, A.J. never got closer than 2nd again in 1979 losing out to a young Rick Mears. During those years I developed a group of drivers that I liked, and those that I didn’t based of course on the color of their cars.

Like: A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, Tom Sneva, Gordon Johncock

Dislike: Al and Bobby Unser, Johnny Rutherford, Rick Mears

As I got older, I drifted from watching racing with Dad. I became a teenager, much more interested in girls than race cars. Still, I’d peak in on the ABC broadcast occasionally, or sit and watch for awhile as I was coming and going through the living room. At 20 Prospect, you couldn’t walk anywhere in the house without passing the TV. The big old wooden Zenith console sat right in the center of the house, and it was always on.

I didn’t rediscover IndyCar racing until 2007. Sitting in my brother in law’s house on a rainy Memorial Day weekend, I saw the race for the first time on a widescreen HDTV. I was hooked. During the summer, I watched a few more races with 20 Prospect Jr. Enough to rekindle my interest in following the sport. Finally, in 2008, at the cusp of age 40, I made it to my first Indy 500.

I drove down with 20 Prospect Jr. on a “guys weekend”. We went as far as Champaign, Illinois on Saturday, and on Sunday morning we drove over to Indianapolis for the race. If you have never been to the Indianapolis 500 it is hard to put into words the sheer size, and scope of the place. There’s a reason they call it “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing”. It is far more than a mere race. It is a cultural event on par with the Kentucky Derby, The Tour de France, the Superbowl, and the Olympics.

We spent the afternoon watching the race from Turn 4, with 300,000 of our closest friends. The weather was glorious, high 70’s and sunny. The race was entertaining, and afterward we made our way out of the grounds with an army the size of Napoleon’s at Waterloo. We stopped on the drive back to Champaign for dinner, and spent a half hour playing catch in a park in a small Indiana town, before getting back to the hotel and going for a swim.

The view from our seats in J Stand

The next day we made the loooong drive back to Minnesota, vowing to return again someday. Last year though we opted for going to the Indycar race at Iowa Speedway instead, to keep the travel expense and drive time down. We’ll be doing the same this year.

Iowa Indy 250

Iowa Speedway puts on a wonderful show, and it is the most fan / family friendly experience I have ever had at a sporting event. But it’s not Indy. There is just something special about the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It’s 100 year history, and the pageantry and tradition that surrounds the race give you goose bumps. Those that have been their know, it gets to you. The only other places I have been that felt that historic and haunted was Notre Dame stadium when I was 9. You really do get the sense of being part of something much, much larger than a car race.

I’m not sure when I’ll get back there. I would love to make it back next year for the 100th anniversary of the first Indy 500, but we’ll have to wait and see. Life has a way of getting in the way sometimes, but like General MacArthur I vow that I will return.

Buffalo’s got a spirit talking proud, talking proud…

Rich Stadium

We didn’t attend many sporting events growing up, not so much because of a lack of money, more because Dad had a lack of patience. Nothing sent the original Mr. 20 Prospect over the edge faster than the gridlocked traffic getting into and out of the parking lots. For that reason, more than any other, I didn’t attend a professional sporting event until 1980 when St. Joe’s organized a parish excursion to a Buffalo Bills game.

It was the 4th game of the season, and it just so happened that this particular year was the first time in my lifetime that the Bills actually fielded a competitive team. (They would eventually even make the playoffs). But that trip was organized long before, and with the parish providing round trip transportation on 2 school buses, it didn’t take much pleading to convince Dad to go to the game. So it was that we purchased a set of tickets, and set off for that eventful game against the Oakland Raiders.

Now one might think that a church organized excursion to a football game would be a wholesome family adventure, involving homemade lemonade, and the singing of songs on the bus. But this being 1980, one would be wrong. One of the most amazing things I have noticed as I have approached middle age, is how our society’s definition of acceptable public behavior has changed. Now a days public drunkenness is frowned upon. Back then, it was not only acceptable, it was the central purpose for large events like football games, and rock concerts, and church organized excursions were no exception.

Each of the two buses that we loaded into that morning came equipped with a half keg of beer in the back row. And even though we had just attended the 8 am Mass, people didn’t have any problem tapping into it on the drive up to Rich Stadium. The mood was festive, and the sense of anticipation palpable. I had never been to a big time football game before, and with the Bill’s hot start, all 80,000 seats had been sold for the game that day against the Raiders.

And what a glorious day it was. For the last weekend in September the weather was lovely, with achingly clear blue skies. By the time we arrived at the game, the temperature had already risen into the 80’s. The gravel parking lots outside Rich were full of tailgater’s, and the smell of hot dogs, and hamburgs’ filled the air. Total strangers were friendly and talkative in the lines getting into the stadium, and everyone was jovial. It was apparent even to a 12 year old that over 50% of them were already three sheets to the wind. As the game began the Bills jumped out to an early lead, and it quickly became a laugher. The “Bermuda Triangle” of Smerlas, Haslet and Shane Nelson was all over Dan Pastorini, and after every touchdown the crowd was on its feet singing along to “Talking Proud”.

But it isn’t what went on down on the field that I remember most. It was the view in the stands. This being the end of the 70’s the place was full of inebriated long hairs and resembled a scene from Woodstock. My friend Chris and I were more entertained by the drunk in the row in front of us who kept drinking wine from his bolo, waving a large anatomically correct stuffed Buffalo, and shouting “Pastorini bites the weenie” at the top of his lungs, than we were with the football game. I can remember going to the bathroom at halftime, and being amazed to see grown men peeing in the sinks, and a passed out drunk laying in the urinal trough. But most amazing of all, was how people went about their business as if this was normal.

After the game, it took a while for our parishioners to find their way back to the bus. We played catch with the drunks while we waited to leave. On the way home, the grownups in the back did their best to kill the keg before we got back to Batavia, and their slurred banter was the entertainment. This was a side of folks that I didn’t usually see sitting in the pews on Sunday morning, and it made quite an impression. Monsignor Schwarz sat at the front of the bus, and didn’t seem too greatly disturbed by the proceedings, so neither were we.

I’m not sure at what point this type of public behavior became unacceptable, but somewhere along the way decorum, and decency took over. In this age of Corporate Sports such behavior isn’t tolerated and it doesn’t take much to bring down the security guards, and get the rowdies ejected. In fact, they even flash phone numbers on the jumbo-tron for narc’ing on folks.

Maybe it’s the money involved, or maybe our litigiousness has made us more wary. Or maybe we have just matured a little bit in the last 30 years. Whatever the reason, there are few places left that a person can see humanity letting it all hang out. The infield at a NASCAR race springs to mind, and I have heard stories about Mardi-Gras that make my experiences pale in comparison. This may sound odd, but in some ways I think we have lost something. Maybe if we let our hair down more, and were more tolerant of such debauchery, we wouldn’t have half of the population taking anti-depressants, or seeing counselors to work through our anxiety. Then again, maybe it’s our past that has us so screwed up in the first place 😉 Something for your counselor’s to figure out. Let me know what they have to say.

Let’s play two

Another weekend comes to a close here on the front porch. The first real summery weekend of the season. The 20 Prospect clan were our usual busy selves with a piano recital and a couple of ball games to get in between church, and the usual weekend yard work.

Little Miss 20 Prospect has been taking piano lessons for 2 years now. Saturday was her second recital. This one was held at the First United Church of the Covenant, or some such make believe protestant “church”. You know the kind of place that seats about 50 people in a building that is a cross between a pole barn, and a bingo hall. Alas, they never seem to have bingo in them. What they usually do have is musical equipment. Guitars, drum sets, grand piano, amps, and a set of bongo drums. I didn’t see any trapeze, or trampoline though, and thankfully they had put the snakes back in their tanks before they started the recital.

She played beautifully, and we were very proud. I have no idea where she has inherited her musical ability from, because both Mrs. 20 Prospect and myself are tone deaf. Hell, I was so dextrally challenged that I had to drop typing my Senior year of H.S. because it was pulling down my grades. “Less yap, more tap!” Mr. Weiss would chant as I beat my fists against the keys of the old manual typewriter managing to somehow wedge my finger in between the G and the T.

Sunday was a day / night double header for 20 Prospect Jr. and his team mates. It was the make up day for the two games that were rained out 2 weeks back during our stretch of cold weather. I’m not sure how warm it actually got today, but the dewpoint was in the 70’s. The air felt like hot, wet flannel. We must have sweat off a few pounds just watching those poor boys play ball. I have to say, I was impressed they hung in there. The first game started at 3 pm, and the 2nd one ended at 8:15pm. Aside from a short dinner break, those boys spent 5 hours in that blasted heat.

They dropped the matinee, but came back to win in the nightcap. 20 Prospect Jr. was thrilled to get to pitch for the first time today. He pitched 2 innings, striking out 5 batters, and didn’t give up a walk. Not bad considering he’s a 3rd grader, and the teams include 4th and 5th graders. Old Three Fingers Brown ain’t got nothing on him.

And now the kids are in bed, and the house is buttoned up tight, the air conditioning whirring away outside while the June bugs beat their heads against the front window. Thunderstorms are popping, and I’ll probably take another peak at the radar before turning in, but it looks like they’re going to miss us to the North. With more heat and humidity forecast for the rest of the week, I’m sure our turn will come. I look forward to that first night of sitting on the porch steps, watching the tongues of lighting flicker across the evening sky. Summer has come at last.

Ra Cha Cha

I’m not a Rochester guy. Never have been. I guess it come from my clan having emigrated to Batavia from Buffalo in the early 60’s. Rochester was always a foreign place to me. That odd city that had all the same TV channels as Buffalo, but only on the higher numbers instead.

Everyone in Batavia has allegiance to either Buffalo or Rochester. There is no middle ground. In my youth Buffalo was the place we went to see family. It was the news we watched on TV. Watching Rochester news, or reading the Democrat & Chronicle, instead of the Courier Express was just bizarre. Like being in a different time zone. Things seem the same, but are slightly off.

To me Rochester was always a minor league place. Buffalo was the majors. Buffalo had the Sabres! Rochester had their farm club, the Amerks. Buffalo had the Bills and OJ Simpson! Rochester had… Kodak. Unfortunately, both only had AAA baseball. (actually, Buffalo was AA for years, before jumping back up to AAA in the late 80’s). But the Trojans/Clippers/Muck Dogs were the only minor league ball I cared about.

Comparing the two cities, Buffalo was old school rust belt, heavy industry, steel mills, and factories. Rochester was cutting edge technology, Bausch and Lomb, Kodak, and Xerox. For a while it seemed like Rochester was better positioned to survive the 40 year long depression in Western New York. And yet, they ended up in the same mess as Buffalo did. There’s no escaping fate in Western New York. We’re like a Greek tragedy that way.

As I hit high school I began to frequent Rochester more, and more. At first, it was just to shop at the Marketplace Mall with friends, the end all be all of shopping in WNY in the mid 80’s. Later, when we had driver’s licenses and access to cars, we started coming up to see movies, or just drive aimlessly, looking for entertainment. Entertainment usually involved pots of coffee, and french fries with gravy at a Diner.

Still, even after friends started attending college at RIT, and the trips to Rochester bars followed by a “garbage plate” at Nick Tahoe’s became more frequent, Rochester was never quite “my town”. I could find my way to anywhere in the city of Buffalo, but Rochester is still a place that puzzles me. I get lost here more than anywhere else in the world, which is kind of odd. A built in blind spot in my sense of direction.

So being here this week is the usual odd Rochester experience. It feels so familiar, but it’s not quite home. Batavia is home. Buffalo is home. Rochester is just a step through the looking glass. A looking glass made by Bausch & Lomb, I guess.