The Indy 500 is special to me...I'm a sap.
I've been going to the race since 1985 while sitting with my family in the first row of the Southwest Vista. It strikes a ton of chords for me- Purdue's band's involvement has always been special to me because I was brainwashed to be a Boiler from birth. The playing of taps, the flyover, the deserved recognition of our service men & women always chokes me up as I'm reminded of the greatness and bravery of men who gave everything for our way of life. The releasing of the balloons, hearing Jim Nabors sing "Back Home Again in Indiana" and hearing the most famous words in motorsports always gives me chills.
But, the first lap under green as the flash of color blurs, the deafening roar rings in my ears and the smell of rubber and burning ethanol is worth the $85 ticket price in itself. And the other 199 and 3/4 laps were pretty great for me this year too.
Each year there's something that's interesting to racing dorks like me and the last 30 laps and fuel strategery was it this year. It was a wild finish...but, this year's finish made me sick at my stomach too. I didn't see the Conway/RHR wreck immediately as it was on the other side of the track. But, watching the video boards was pretty awful from my perspective.
LBD and I got to meet Mike Conway last year on Community Day at the track. Sure, it was only a few seconds outside his garage, but it was impactful on my (then) three year old son. He doesn't remember everything about his third year of his life, but he remembers meeting the Dad's Root Beer car driver...and still calls him one of his favorites.
J jokes that we open wheel fans only go to the races to see wrecks. I'd argue that real fans don't care too much for them. Granted, a lot of people cram the seats to watch cars slamming into the walls, but the older I get, the less I can stomach watching a car lose control...especially in person.
The good news is Conway wasn't seriously injured...but his car was unrecognizable (above)- a true testament of how much safer these cars are than they used to be...and maybe just a small sign of how blessed RHR and Conway were during the late afternoon in Indy. But, that collision definitely dampened my enthusiasm for an awfully-enjoyable end of the 500 miles.
And speaking of dampening my fun- Ashley Judd stinks. I can't stand that woman. As much as I like Dario Franchitti, I might detest his wife equally as much. First off, she was never a good actress. But even if she was, I still wouldn't want to see her artificial interest in the waning moments of the race, her flowery speeches following races or her self-absorbed efforts to get on camera and steal the spotlight from her husband and his crew.
My family has a blind draw pool each year prior to the race. I've won it twice and have bought at least one driver each year since 1983. I've won this gamble two times. Both were when I drew Franchitti. But, I was rooting for Kanaan and Conway at the end of this year's race as I just didn't want to hear the Judd speak after the race's end. I'm glad I won, and glad a seemingly-good guy won the race...but hope the Hulman George family bars Ashley Franchitti from every returning to Pit Lane.
Everybody loves it...But America
It seems the Indy 500 product itself is pretty damned good to me. The dark days of the middle-90s are a distant memory as super-high quality drivers and well-tuned machines maintained by skilled crews are the norm, not the exception these days. The field was comprised of the most international drivers ever...Fitting, I guess.
Remember one of the silly reasons Tony George formed the IRL was to try to insure that more American drivers would be entered into the 500 each year. Well, he's no longer in a decision-making position with the league or the track...and his vision will not be realized, and that's a very good thing.
He wanted racing to be more-affordable, so he said. Let's be real honest- fast cars aren't affordable...race cars aren't supposed to be either. And, the best of the best drivers should be driving in Indy...regardless of where they were born. I like that John Andretti was in the race. I like more though, that Scott Dixon decided to live in Indy because he liked the city...and by the way, he's a bad mo fo behind the wheel...That's what matters.
The fan favorites aren't the Americans, they're the good drivers who aren't d-bags...or the greatest drivers...even with crappy personalities. Guys like Fittipaldi and Foyt come to mind right away- just like in any sport, if you consistently win championships, a lot of people will want to watch you do what you do.
That said, if you whine, bitch, tear people down, haven't every won anything of substance, but have a cute hind end...you might still have some fans. But, the real race fans grow weary of that type of act...especially as time starts taking its toll.
Hopefully, as the race moves back toward its intended start time of 11:00am in two years, we'll get to see guys like Tony Stewart, Sam Hornish and even Jeff Gordon attempting to race at Indy. Simply nothing is better than watching the best of the best compete and that's what will help Indy continue the momentum it has.
Regardless of who's racing there, I'll be there with my Dad, a few pals and at least one of my brothers. We've seen better times for the sport and much worse times...and as a new era of management has begun for the track, things might be changing in the coming years. But the important things remain: Honoring fallen heroes, enjoying century-old traditions and watching fast machines and daring, if not crazy, drivers do what they do.
I love Memorial Day Weekind in Indy.