The Indy 500 is the largest single-day event event in the world...and, in spite of my blood flowing with gold and black hues, it's my favorite one.
My Dad and my Grandpas all served in the military...I wasn't brave enough to make that decision. But Indy's pre-race Memorial Day activities always remind me how I'm standing on the shoulders of these, and other great men just by living my life in our great country. If you've never been to IMS for a race, I'm sorry you haven't, but TV doesn't capture the event like being there. From patriotic songs, to taps, to "Back Home Again in Indiana" to when the flag finally drops, it's a day that strikes every chord for me.
Yesterday though, a surprise completely shocked and moved me just prior to the race.
As it is each year, taps was played prior to the race. But, toward the end of simple and moving tune, Dan Wheldon's car that won the race one year ago pulled slowly out of the pits for a lap. I looked around at my family and friends and all were visibly moved. The car continued slowly around the track as "Back Home Again" played...and I'm sure most in the stands, like me, had no clue that the bright orange and white machine was going to soon pass by.
It was a bit ghastly, but at the same time, it was perfect...the car was the same, but the helmet in the cockpit had a waving British flag to pay tribute to the two-time champ who died in a crash at the end of last season.
Then came the race.
Right away, in our Row 1 seats in the SW Vista, we could tell the new chassis had changed the dynamics of the race. When the green flag dropped, the cars didn't have quite the speed coming into one as they used to. Granted, they were still fast, but not as fast. I'd estimate the cars were entering one about 10 or 15 MPH slower than before...but the increased downforce coupled withe the slower speeds allowed cars and drivers to come into the turn in tight packs. This made me nervous as this used to be a formula for a wreck, but time and again, all of the cars in the field would come away unscathed in this formation.
The Lotus machines were, unsurprisingly, notably slower than the rest of the field. They were so slow in fact, they were both black flagged about ten laps into the race. While I agree that the more engine manufacturers, the better, or this and any other series, but putting my Mazda3's engine in the field might produce similar results. At this point, Lotus doesn't belong racing at Indy, or anywhere else on the IndyCar circuit. They don't compete...and that's what racing is about.
The race had long stretches of green flag action...and the most lead changes ever in the 96 year history of the event. The new aero package of the cars made it easier to use the draft of the car in front and slingshot by than ever before...so time and again, a driver would take the lead only to see it relinquished about 2.5 miles later.
It was Briscoe v. Hinchcliffe...then Andretti...then Sato and the Ganassi machines; battling back and fourth, and much of the action happened right in front of the seats that I'm blessed to sit in each year.
After getting pushed into a 180 spin in the pits by Viso, Franchitti fell to around 28th position (I believe). In front of him, was a field that included a ton of Indy vets and machines that were pretty evenly matched.
After a month of domination by Chevy power, Honda and its teams flexed their collective muscle. As the red Ganassi cars and Japanese darkhorse, Takuma Sato were the story for much of the second half of the 200-lap classic.
A couple stories that I liked watching were these: Mike Conway, who had struggled to find speed at Indy since his catastrophic, back-breaking wreck at the end of the race a few years ago, once again competed. He rushed up the field into the top-10. But, he got loose in one and collected the unlucky-at-Indy Will Power in a nasty looking wreck. Like his last big collision at Indy, this one took him into the air and into the fence, topside first. But thankfully, he walked way.
|Conway and Power narrowly avoiding disaster|
The wreck really began a few laps earlier- after Conway's torrent pace, his pit crew had some problems that led to slight damage to the front wing and a rattled English driver. Both of Foyt's machines did not finish.
Another guy I'm a fan of is local driver and Butler alum, Ed Carpenter. He had a pretty lousy month. But, he did what he does at Indy and climbed the leader board to the top-5. With about 30 laps remaining, it seemed that Carpenter was ready to win the race...and he got aggressive, in turn one time and began mixing it up with the bluebloods of the field. I loved what I saw from him- he was selling out in order to win the race; something that became a recurring theme. But, after pushing a bit too hard, his run at the lead ended in a spin in the short shoot between one and two...after changing tires, and probably his undergarments, he re-entered the race at the back of the active field.
Marco Andretti, who was my pick coming into the race, had the lead often in the early going...but his car went away from him a bit. And in the closing laps, pushing for a higher position from sixth, he lost the car into the outside wall.
Tony Kanann, the clear fan favorite was in the lead at that point...but relinquished the lead after the wreck. The crowd was visibly excited to see the Brazilian atop the board. An illegal, but crafty and gritty jump coming off of a yellow thrust TK from fifth to first just laps before. His car wasn't as fast as the Honda-powered Ganassi rides...but he wanted the win, however possible.
Dixon and Franchitti, their race strategists and their pit crews earned the P1 and P2 positions for much of the closing stanza of the race. Like Penske usually does, this veteran team was simply dialed in...and it looked like one of them would take the Borg Warner trophy. But Sato had other ideas.
|Franchitti's defining moment of the race|
With a few laps left, Sato passed Dixon...putting him in second position; and his sites were set on the (then) two-time champ Scotsman. With one lap left, Sato saw a small sliver of opportunity and he went for the kill in turn one. He went very low, Franchitti didn't leave him a ton of room, but the end result was Sato nose-first into the wall...and Franchitti claiming his third win; putting him in truly elite company. But this wasn't just his third win, it was his third in six years. Astounding.
I used to be more of a fan of Franchitti, but he seems to think he's above the fray of the rest of the drivers and lays blame at everyone else's feet time and again. Atop of that, his wife is simply unbearable for me. She rode the coat tails of her talented mother and sister to earn fame. She rode the coat tails of Kentucky basketball to generate more buzz, and now she follows the wake of her husband to get more facetime. She's a good-looking woman that I don't like looking at because I find her to be so syrupy that it's nauseating.
So I didn't like seeing Mr. Judd winning the race yesterday. I was rooting for Sato, Dixon, Andretti, Carpenter...hell, even wildman Servia would have been better. The feeling I had was like when Fittipaldi would win back in the 90s; kinda empty.
But still, the race was great. And even though the cars weren't as fast as I'd like them to have been, and some of my favorite drivers ended up as DNFs and also-rans, I left IMS sunburnt and satisfied in the sweltering 93 degree Indiana heat.