It’s incredibly fitting that the day after the Indianapolis 500 is Memorial Day. Not because it’s a good day for a barbecue. And not because it’s a day to relax after a long month of festivities. But because the Indy 500 is all about the American spirit.
Courage, toughness, focus, and drive are what it takes to race a car 500 miles at high speeds, in changing conditions, and despite unpredictable circumstances. The drivers put everything on the line – and do so knowing the price they pay could be injury, disability, even death.
That possibility became all too real this month when rocket-propelled cars actually began to take flight. A few close calls, including one, which could have cost driver James Hinchcliffe his life, left some questioning whether IndyCar had become too dangerous for its own good.
When asked about safety by ABC News, 2014 Indy 500 champion, Ryan Hunter-Reay, was quick to point out the history of the track, which was built as a proving ground for automobiles and has continued to break new ground ever since.
“At the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in IndyCars, it’s long been the case that pushing the limits of speed and boundaries, always pushing the envelope, it comes with some risk. It comes with the dangerous side of it,” he said. “The crashes have been a part of pushing that envelope at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway since the early 1900s.”
Since Carl Fisher had a vision and together with his partners James Allison, Arthur Newby, and Frank Wheeler, built a dirt track, paved it with bricks, gave birth to the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” and turned it into the most iconic racetrack in the world.
As three-time Indy 500 champion Helio Castroneves told ESPN, destiny and desire are part of it, but success at IMS is mostly about something else.
“It’s about respect. When you pay respect, the place will pay you back.”
-Helio Castroneves on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway
So much of the Indianapolis 500 is about paying respect. To the track, the sport, the history, and the men and women who fought to make it all possible.
It’s a story of risk versus reward, speed versus strategy, and science versus technology.
But it’s also a story of the American dream.
And those who died so we could live it.
God bless them.
God bless the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
And God bless America.