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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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.

When I dream about the moonlight on the Wabash…

This is it. The weekend of the great Indianapolis Five Hundred Mile Race. 20 Prospect Jr. and I will celebrate by driving 625 miles to take part in the festivities. I’ve been planning this since last summer. Drive down Friday, spend Friday night and Saturday night camping in a tent across 16th Street from the race track, watch the race with 250,000 of our closest friends on Sunday, then limp home on Monday. The drive will take 10 hours. If only I could drive 220 mph, we’d be there in less than 3.

Forecast for Sunday? 94 degrees, and Sunny. Jimminy Christmas, thank god I’m bringing a portable shower tent. And water. Lots, and lots of water.

Here’s a clip to get you in the mood. Look for photo postings in the coming days.