I have a confession. I’ve been a racing fan since the first time I saw an IndyCar go around the track. I’ve been to more Carb Days than I can count. I’ve spent half the month of May this year at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. I’ve been driven around the track several times, once by a Bachelorette star and once by a 500 driver at full speed.
But (and here’s my confession)…
I’ve never been to the track on race day.
They say you never forget your first time. And I’m sure I won’t.
But just to be sure, I’ll record some of the highlights.
Sunday May 25, 2014
5:00 AM Alarm goes off. Good God. What am I doing? My dog looks at me thinking the same thing.
6:15 Leave the house.
6:35 Enter the north gate. Why is it so smoky? And what are all these people grilling at 6:30 AM?
6:49 Walking from the infield lot, I am escorted by the Indianapolis 500 Gordon Pipers. And now I’m in a parade.
6:55 Lady walks up and tells me my outfit is cute. Yay, me! Not bad for 5:15 AM.
7:15 Enter pit lane. Baby You Can Drive My Car is playing. Which is perfect.
7:23 Have a chat with my new Canadian friend, Bill Adam from SportsNet TV, who is attending his second race. He tells me of the 500, “It’s so American to say it’s the greatest…something in the world. But in this case, I buy it.”
7:49 Cars lined up in the garage for inspection.
8:06 Find out there are clean bathrooms with warm water in the garage. Which would have been nice to know all month.
8:15 Run into rookie driver Sage Karam outside his garage. I wish him luck. And meet his cute girlfriend. Who he should totally marry (someday).
8:38 Camped out along red carpet. Feel more like the paparazzi than at any other time in my life.
11:20 Back to the pits. Watch driver introductions and pre-race festivities. Get choked up several times.
12:00 Flyover. Goosebumps.
12:09 Jim Nabors sings “Back Home Again in Indiana” for the last time. And the first time for me (in person). Now, I get it. And yes, he’s going to be hard to replace.
12:12 Mark Cuban gets ready to walk out to wave the green flag. Guy next to me tells him, “Don’t screw this up.” He laughs and flashes his Hoosiers football jersey. Strangely, I’m not comforted.
12:17 Nice guy comes up to me and says, “Hi. I’m Jeff. I follow you on twitter.” Hi Jeff! Nice to meet you. And thanks for saying hi.
12:40 Grab a spot under a tree near the Pagoda and watch the race on the big screen.
1:05 Spot Indy’s own Josh Kaufman, winner of The Voice greeting fans in the plaza.
1:25 See first person of the day stumbling drunk.
1:27 Guy sits down next to me gnawing on a turkey leg the size of my arm.
It’s right around this point that I realize my technology is almost dead. So, the details are a little fuzzy from here. And no, not because I had been drinking. For the record, I had not. Also, I just want to watch the race now. I’ll be back.
What a finish. What a race. What a month!
You’d think after a dozen times, I would pick a landmark when I park my car. But sadly, no. So, I end the day searching for a white SUV in a field of white SUVs. Again.
I exit the track one last time this month. I look in my rear view mirror. And as it disappears from my sight…I miss it already.
Another person touched by the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”
The Indy 500 put Indianapolis on the map. It was the foundation for the Pacers, the Colts, the NCAA, the tournaments, the Super Bowl and Indy as “Sports Capital of the World.”
And now, I’ve seen it live. In person. And contrary to what I’d been told, it didn’t hurt a bit.
It did change me though.
I always felt the magic of the track. I had great respect for it and felt close to it. I get why the drivers refer to it as a living thing. And I do believe the track picks the winner.
But now, it’s different. Now, I know it intimately. I’ve seen it from all sides, some more flattering than others. It wasn’t until today that I knew it completely. It took me a long time. A decade, to be exact. But today, I gave myself fully to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
And now that I’ve done it…I can’t wait to do it again.
But first, someone get me a cigarette. Or a glass of milk.
Note from the author: Thanks so much to everyone at IMS and IndyCar for making me a part of this year’s festivities. I have never met a group of people who have such reverence for their workplace. But then again, why wouldn’t they? The Greatest Spectacle in Racing also has the greatest people in racing. I am proud to know you. And I look forward to working with you again.