Green Flag

The sun is just breaking above the tops of the paddock grandstand, its pink hue slowly fading to gold in the morning haze. It’s only 7:00 am and already it is 80 degrees. In five hours the stands will be filled with 300,000 people, but at the moment the place is nearly empty. Just row upon row of aluminum bleachers stretching as far as we can see. Across the finishing straight the first few crew members are making preparations in the pits. At this quiet hour it is hard to imagine the thundering roar that is to come.

We sit in the shade of the stands, drink water from our bottles, wipe sweat from our foreheads, and soak it all in. 100 years of ghosts surround us. They sit in straw boater hats, and sun bonnets fanning themselves with programs as the shadows of immortals flash by on the track; Harroun, De Palma, Goux, Murphy, Milton, Lockhart, Meyer, Rose, Vuckovich.  Before the race begins our own generation of immortals will parade past waving to the crowd; Unser, Johncock, Jones, Rutherford, Andretti, Foyt. The names from my youth, forever linked to the Memorial Days spent sitting by the TV with my father watching the race and dreaming of being behind the wheel.

It’s hard to believe I am here now, with the next generation of our family, weaving our own history with that of the race. Five Hundred Miles of speed, danger, and attrition. So many have paid the ultimate price in pursuit of glory, and yet they still line up in eleven rows of three, to come howling down the straightaway at 220 mph, darting and dicing inches apart as they dive into Turn 1. Each one hoping to carve his name alongside the immortals.

May 26th, 2013, the 97th running of the great Indianapolis 500 Mile Race. Who will drink the milk, and kiss the bricks?

It’s March 11th, and our tickets have arrived.

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Go Dogs Go!

I’m back in Minnesota again, after a wodnerful whirlwind of a trip to Western New York. There is no better time of year to visit than early June. The weather was perfect, and the lushness of WNY never fails to surprise me. Who knew there were so many shades fo green? Minnesota is far from being a desert, but there is just no comparison to the verdant shades of green that you see in Upstate New York in early summer.

Last Friday night the 20 Prospect clan descended upon Dwyer Stadium, home of the beloved Muckdogs, to watch them play the Jamestown Jammers. If there is a better way to spend a small town Friday night than watching baseball with 1,000 of your closest friends, then I have no idea what it might be. It doesn’t get anymore Norman Rockwell-esque than this…

alas, they lost. But they always lose when I see them play. It never seems to spoil the experience though.

20 Prospect Jr. nabbed a foul ball while we were going to the concession stand for some Stewart’s Rootbeer. I gotta say, the Rochester Red Wings, who are currently operating the club, are doing a great job with the place. RC Cola, ON TAP!!!!! Not a Coke or Pepsi in sight! It’s like they knew I was coming.

There were fireworks after the game, which were only enhanced by the sound of my niece’s 3 year old squaeling with delight at each explosion. It was so great to share the memories with another generation of the family, and to see that it is still just as wonderful as I remembered it being. May there always be baseball in the summertime on the corner of Denio and Bank Street. And may there always be a 20 Prospecter there to enjoy it.

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Whew… that was a day. Three ball games down in Miesville for 20 Prospect Jr.’s weekend tournament. The boys went 1-2 so we will not be going back tomorrow, and I have to admit, I’m happy about that. It may be one of the loveliest valleys in Minnesota, but after spending 8 hours in the sun and wind, I really could use a day to sleep in.

Lil’ Miss 20 Prospect was off with friends at the local six-flags-ish amusement park, celebrating someone’s b-day, so it was just me and the missus, and the 2 pups. We packed a lunch, and snacks, and made a day of it. The little league fields in Miesville are almost as lovely as Jack Ruhr Field where the Mudhens play. It’s rare to find grass infields these days, on fields of this size. They were manicured like putting greens, and the weather was picture perfect.

This is a tournament team from 20P Jr.’s local little league, so it’s a sort of all star team that will play a couple of weekend tournaments. There’s only 1 boy that he knows from his usual team, so it is a whole new group of kids and coaches for him to get to know. For a shy kid, he does amaze me at times. When sports are involved he has no trouble making friends, and talking with strangers. Maybe I was the same way once, but I can’t recall.

We sat out in the bright sun, as puffy white clouds sailed like Spanish galleons through the blue sky, and watched a bunch of 11 and 12 year olds try to play a 19th century sport with more arcane rules, and traditions than you could master in a lifetime. After a seesaw battle, they won their first game. With 1 out and two on in the bottom of the last inning, they brought the tying run up to the plate. The batter looped a shot down the 3rd base line that looked for all the world like it would drop in for a double, when out of nowhere my son came sliding into the frame on his knees and made a terrific catch, then popped up onto his feet and doubled a runner off at second base to end the game. I have no idea where this kid learned how to play this game, as I sure as hell didn’t teach him that.

To his dismay though, after that catch the coach put him in left field the rest of the afternoon. So he spent the bulk of his time standing out there in the weeds watching the game go on around him waiting for the occasional ball to make it out his way. I felt a little bad for the kid, but knew that this is one of those life lessons that we all have to learn at some point. You can do your best, and still not be recognized.

Did he whine? No. Did he complain? No. So I was proud of the composure and maturity he showed. Which made it all the more remarkable tonight when we were putting him to bed, and he asked, “Dad, did you find a baseball when you were unpacking the bags?”

“No, I didn’t see one. Why?”

“There was a baseball in one of the bags, and I was wondering if you saw it, because after you were done unpacking I couldn’t find it.”

“Hmm… it’s possible that Mom just unpacked it and tossed it into your room. Is this it?” I asked holding up a ball that was laying on the floor.

“No, it was one of the game balls from today.”

“Hmm… I’ll go take a look.” I said as I walked out to the kitchen. After digging through some stuff on the counter I found a new, grass stained ball laying under my glove. Carrying it back into his room I held it up to him and asked “Is this it?”

“Yeah thanks!” he said brightening up.

Before I left, I turned and asked him. “Where did you get that ball from?”

That’s when he said, “The coach gave it to me in the dugout after I made that catch.”

“The coach gave you the game ball?” I asked

“Uh, huh. He gave me it during his speech after the game”

“Well” I said, “that’s something to be proud of.”

He just smiled back at me from the darkness.

Stepping out of the room, and turning off the hallway light, I was more proud of him for not telling us about getting the game ball from the coach, than I was about him making the catch. And like the proud Dad I am, I just walked down the dark hallway to the living room, smiling.

The Greatest Spectacle in Racing

To say that Indy is more than a race may be cliche, but having been to Indy twice and other races too, I can attest that there is something different about it. You feel like you are seeing history being made.

Well, today we saw history. The 2nd hottest race on record, the most number of lead changes, and I managed to park in the 2nd road and exit the track in under 20 minutes. Yes, you know you are getting old when your parking spot becomes one of your highlights. What next? A post about gas prices?

After checking into our hotel yesterday afternoon, and taking what may have been the most refreshing hot shower in my life, 20Prospect Jr. and I spent the evening doing the most logical thing during a weekend at Indy. We went racing.

I found a local kart track where for 20 bucks we got 2 hours of non stop racing. Racing a go kart in 90 degree heat makes me appreciate what those drivers did today. They have to be amazing athletes to do what they do.

A rootbeer float from the Mug ‘n Bun plus some air conditioning and a another shower and dip in the pool made for a glorious end to the day. We turned into our cushy beds, and set the alarm for 5:33am, to coincide with the bomb announcing the gate to the track opening. (Another of Indy’s great traditions.)

We pulled into the camping lot a little after 6:30 am, using our camping pass for parking if nothing else. As I said, row 2, about 5 cars down from the exit. Literally within 100 yards of the gates.

As the sun and the temperature rose we spent the morning touring the track, keeping in the shade, and enjoying the misters set up around IMS. Despite the heat we managed to stay pretty comfortable, having our picnic lunch beneath a shade tree, before going in to take our seats a half hour before the race, to take in the pomp and circumstance. Jim Nabors, balloon launch, flyover, etc.

What followed was three hours of some of the best racing I’ve ever seen. And even if I wasn’t happy with the outcome, I can’t complain about the entertainment. I am already counting the days until next year’s race.

We have an accident in turn 2

Well that didn’t quite go as planned. When I bought the 2 day camping pass for Lot 3G, there were two things I hadn’t counted on. Mid 90 degree heat, and a band of drunken yahoos in the low key "family" campground.

The night started well enough, we found a spot in the back of the field alongside the creek, and beneath a shady cottonwood tree. We set up camp, fired up the grill and made dinner. After dinner we tossed a baseball around as we watched the sunset turn the thunderheads of a distant rain storm into cotton candy. We set up our shower tent and took some wonderful, refreshing showers to shake off the heat and sweat of the day.

As the sun was going down we spied a full grown beaver, paddling in the creek. Now this isn’t exactly wilderness. Our campground is squeezed between the race track and a refinery.

After dusk one of the campers began projecting highlights from previous races on the wall of a nearby building and we carried our lawn chairs down to enjoy the show. Getting back to our tent at 10pm was the first sign of trouble. The campers next to us, a group of guys aged 30 to 50, and their women, were playing music loud and drinking, and cussing profusely.

Now I’m no prude, so I expected a little of this. It was only 10pm, so we got ready for bed, and turned in. When midnight came and went, and every other group in the campground had turned in except our neighbors, I knew it was trouble.

The boy had already fallen asleep. Oh for the sound sleep of an eleven year old. One o"clock came and went, and by 2am the fireworks had been used up, and they decided to head out to the Strip Club down the street. Sigh… peace at last.

But I still couldn’t relax. The never ending stream of sirens in the distance didn’t help. The EMT’s and Police had a busy night.

They returned at 3:30am drunker, and more foul mouthed than ever. Sigh… that was when I took out my trusty phone and began searching for hotel rooms.

And they never did go to bed, although sometime around 5am I drifted off for an hour.

Morning dawned hot and we rose, cleaned up and walked to a nearby cafe for a big heaping stack of pancakes. They were still drinking at 7am when we left.

After breakfast we went back, packed up the car then walked to the track for the day. It was legends day, and the vintage cars were out on track. We sat thru the driver introductions, and toured the sponsor tents collecting free T-shirts and swag. We visited the museum and saw more cars than we could count. We browsed the tables and picked up some old Johnny Lightning hot wheel replicas of classic 70’s winners (10 cars for 20 bucks.. Gotta luv a deal).

Then we said goodbye and passed on waiting in lines for an hour for driver autographs. Maybe next time.

When we got back to the camp to get the car the drunks had finally passed out.

I honked as we left and considered waving goodbye with my middle finger, but took the high road instead. Right down the highway to the comfort of our hotel.

Which reminded me once again that air conditioning may be mankind’s crowning achievement. That and indoor plumbing.

And Nutella, obviously.