So, This Is Your First Indianapolis 500?

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I’ve mentioned before that my longtime friend, Bruce Yarbro, will be attending his first Indianapolis 500 next weekend. I’m not exactly sure how long Bruce and I have known each other. I know we were both launching Estes model rockets with our older brothers when we were both about eight or nine. His parents and my parents also knew each other while they were growing up. Bruce and I were college roommates and fraternity brothers at the University of Tennessee. Bruce now lives in Memphis, while I live about two hundred miles away in Nashville. There are many people I have lost track with over the years. Although he and I only see each other about once every two or three years or so, we have always stayed in touch.

Bruce-Geo 1979

Bruce & George: College Days - 1979

Bruce is one of two people (the other being my oldest brother) who strongly urged me to start this site. He is the one who originally set it up and came up with the name “Oilpressure”. But I’m not sure I would classify Bruce as an IndyCar fan. Although he put up with me watching the Sunday night replays while we were in college, he never got into it as much as I did (few college kids did in the 70’s). But he appreciated the technology, the innovation and the guts it took to drive one of those cars.

When he came across a couple of tickets for this year’s race that were available to him, he jumped at the chance. He and his fourteen year-old son will set foot on the hallowed ground at 16th and Georgetown for the first time ever, next weekend. To my knowledge, I don’t think either of them have been to a race of any kind before. They will both be starting out as I did, making the Indianapolis 500 the very first race they ever attend – although I was six when I attended my first, so Bruce is about forty-six years behind.

The two of them will be meeting up with me and my group at the track on Saturday before the race. It is our tradition to check into the hotel around noon, dump our things in our rooms and head to the track. In most years, there is nothing going on at the track on Saturday afternoon. Still, we use Saturday to go to the museum and the gift shop to buy souvenirs. That way we don’t have to fool with lugging them around on Race Day. Our day before the race activities also include riding the bus tour around the track and a visit to our seating area. There is something about being in those empty stands that seems almost surreal. It is then, when I just stand there and think of all the famous names that have driven on that stretch of pavement before me.

This year will be different. Saturday May 28 has been designated AJ Foyt Day at the Speedway. They are also going to feature what is being billed as the world’s largest autograph session. It is the goal to have all of the roughly 270 living Indianapolis 500 drivers on hand for an autograph session. Obviously, many won’t be able to make it. But even if half of them are there, what an amazing collection of living history to witness.

Bruce is an old codger like me, but I’m always anxious when I find out that a teenager is going to the track for the race for the first time. Not that I’m personally fond of teenagers – I’m not. Not at all. In fact, I’m very excited that both of my kids are beyond that age. But still, that age group is the key to the future of the Indianapolis 500 and the IZOD IndyCar Series. The last few years, we’ve taken several teenage first-timers. Last year, we took an eighteen year-old girl who was the romantic interest of one of our regulars. She really seemed to enjoy it and I was thinking we had created a new longtime fan. Unfortunately, as most teenage romances go, it did not last through the winter and she will not be joining us this year. I have not yet heard who will be joining us this year.

But I’m also a little anxious regarding newcomers. I feel responsible in making sure they have a good time. To me, going to the museum is one of the best parts of the weekend. To Bruce’s fourteen year-old son, it may resemble torture. I am insulted by the Hot Wheels stunt that will occur just before the race, but a fourteen year-old may find that the best part of the day.

I know what to tell Bruce about the best route to take to the track, how to take a poncho and take clothing appropriate for forty degree weather as well as ninety-five degrees, but I’m not sure what else to tell him. He knows to buy a program – not to keep up with who’s who, but to have as a keepsake for years to come. I’ve explained to him that since they are sitting in the Paddock Stand and we are in Pit Road Terrace, there is a good chance we won’t even see him on Race Day. He has a parking pass outside of Turn Four, so there is no need to warn him about the infield. I’ve informed him that he must eat a tenderloin sandwich and that you’re allowed to bring in your own coolers with your own beer. He has also been instructed that he must eat a meal that includes a shrimp cocktail at St. Elmo’s Steak House, which is older than the Speedway.

I’m not sure I’ve done a good enough job of conveying to him the enormous size of the facility or how big the crowd will be. When I explain to newcomers that they need to be in line before they open the gates at 6:00, they think I’m nuts. Bruce actually asked me what is there to do all that time in the morning before the race. When I told him that he just needed to be there to take it all in, I could sense his eyes rolling through the phone.

So what do you think? Have I missed anything or am I dead wrong about something? Help me out with some suggestions, not only for Bruce and his son, but for anyone who may be attending the Indianapolis 500 for the first time. We need for them to come back year after year.

George Phillips

Shameless Plug: Once again, the kind folks at CrimsonCast have interviewed me for a podcast. This interview took place this past Monday night. They will also talk to me next Monday night after I return from qualifying weekend. Catch this week’s podcast here.

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17 Responses to “So, This Is Your First Indianapolis 500?”

  1. There is NOTHING like being at the Indianapolis 500. Many of us feel as giddy as we did as youngsters at Christmas. I am not sure when that starts but it happens and you get so excited that you count down the days and hours until you get there. My advice is to relax and enjoy each moment.

  2. Jack in NC Says:

    The first time is overwhelming (at least it was to me as an eleven year old). Then all other times are like coming home for Christmas.

    The only things you left off the list were sunglasses and earplugs.

  3. If ‘Other’ = All of the Above, then Other. I’m in Pit Road Terrace as well. Maybe catch ya for a howdy and other congenialities.

  4. Savage Henry Says:

    This was mentioned above, but make sure to tell him to bring earplugs. Of course, let the first few laps go by before putting them on, but have them ready.

    The last time I went my ears were still ringing on the Thursday after the race. I didn’t even think to bring earplugs – it never really bothered me when I was younger. I don’t know if I’m just getting old or if these cars are just louder than the turbos that ran through the ’80s and ’90s, but I’m definitely going to be rocking some earplugs after the first 5-10 laps this year.

  5. billytheskink Says:

    Perhaps my favorite post this month, George.

    I’ll be making my first trip to Indy this year, so I’m soaking up any and all articles like this one that are on the blogs and the forums.

  6. SSMinnow Says:

    One of my favorite pre-race traditions is to walk the length of Georgetown and back to take in all the sites. We park off of McCray and journey down to 16th and just enjoy the show. Gotta be munching on a turkey leg to do it right…….

  7. SSMinnow Says:

    “sights” for all you proofreaders…….
    Also, catching the Night Before the 500 @ IRP tops my list as well.

  8. Captain Says:

    I took my grandson (4yrs old) last year. Just take the time to let the tradition soak in.

  9. The Lapper Says:

    Instead of earplugs why not try a head-set to listen to the teams and drivers. After my first time with them on I knew I couldn’t go back to not having them.

  10. Ron Ford Says:

    Sunglasses are also good for hiding those unmanly tears when Jim Nabors sings “Back Home in Indiana”.

  11. HB Donnelly Says:

    Yeah…a hoodie and sweatpants over a swimsuit is the proper way to dress; that way you’re properly prepared for the weather. Also good to have in the bag: Sunglasses, SPF 9000 sunblock and cold water, next to gloves, a knit cap and a thermos of hot cocoa.

    If deep fried pork on a hamburger bun isn’t your cup o’ tea (what are you, a commie??), then a turkey leg is the way to go. My pre-game meal: Tenderloin and a Coke every year.

    My ear protection consists of earbuds with some big shooting range ear protectors over them, with the earbuds playing the radio network — except on the first lap, of course!

  12. What are you people doing to have to be there before 6am? The last few years I’ve waited until the F1 race concluded at 9:30 before leaving the hotel. That probably won’t work with a noon start this year.

    Many places sell their race day parking spots starting on Friday. I always park at a industrial park at 10th and Rybolt. Easy In/Out. With a pre-bought pass, you can get the wave through at 10th and Lynhurst.

    It’s 50 miles away, but the Little 500 in Anderson might just be the best damn race of the weekend, maybe even the best of the year.

  13. I love taking “Indy virgins” to the race. The look on their faces for the first few laps is priceless.

    Try biting your tongue during Back Home Again in Indiana. It helps keep the tears from coming and embarassing you in front of your “too cool for that” kids.

    First-timers are a lot of fun on Race Day.

  14. indygrrl Says:

    Ugh–one year we parked outside the track. NEVER again. We made the mistake to leave later one year, it was miserable, as the car in the infield is “home base.” Even if it is just to go to it and turn the A/C on for a few minutes, as last year’s race was such a scorcher. I do enjoy the guys with the money on the fishing line who throw it over the fence to “catch” unsuspecting fans if you park outside the track. The added bonus of getting to sit on a “homemade” lot waiting until the other cars left, so we could leave. The infield is the place to park and I don’t care what time I have to get up to do it. My son used to complain until the year we parked outside and had to carry all our stuff in. He does not complain anymore.

  15. Mark Wilkinson Says:

    I tear up during “Taps,” not “Back Home Again…” I try not to forget that it is Memorial Day. My suggestion is to talk to the people around you. Tell them your story and listen to theirs. We sat next to these two elderly gentlemen for two years before we really talked to them. After the B17 and Mustang flyover one year, they told us they flew B29’s out of Tinian with Tibbets. Wow. We were sitting next to heroes and didn’t even know it. Lots of great stories in the stands there at 16th and Georgetown.

  16. How can you forgot the Silent Pagoda’s 6 part blog series “What They Don’t Tell You About The Indianapolis 500.” I laugh out loud every time I read it.

    http://silentpagoda.com/blog/2009/05/14/what-they-dont-tell-you-about-the-500-part-i/

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