The Day Before The 500
I suppose it’s a function of my advanced age, but it took me several days to recover from last weekend at IMS. Of course, we didn’t quite follow the regular routine that we normally would on qualifying weekend. Fast Friday was probably may have been more stressful for me than it was for the drivers or teams – as we were running around like crazy, picking people up at the airport and taking care of last-minute details for our wedding at the track. When it was over, it came off practically without a hitch, but there were a few minor and comical flubs that probably made things more memorable. Still, the whole ordeal had us both exhausted throughout the rest of the weekend as well as this past week as we returned to jobs and reality for a few days.
Well, reality is in the rearview mirror for the next ten days and so is Nashville. Just as our tired old bodies recovered from last weekend, it’s time to do it all over again. But at least this time, we are following our normal race weekend schedule. My brother and his crew will meet us at the track around noon today. There we will take the obligatory tour of the museum (although John and I went there last Sunday).
We’ll also take in the gift shops, which were a little disappointing last weekend. There was nothing I saw last weekend that I had to have – except for this year’s program, of course. The historical books were very scarce and DVD’s were limited to the “Legends Series” that have been around for years and last year’s race. The new die-cast cars now cost $60 and the apparel was either very ordinary or extremely ugly. I did pick up a jacket that was tasteful enough, but when I saw the $100 price tag I quickly put it back.
We’ll also indulge in one of my favorite annual rituals, when we walk over to where our seats are in the Pit Road Terrace. What I like about this yearly event is that it is such a surreal moment. It is eerily quiet as we look out over the silent track. It’s such a far cry from what it will be like in about eighteen more hours, when it’ll be bustling with activity. The teams will be trying to line their cars up on the grid amid other team members, mechanics, media members, lowly bloggers and fans that were lucky enough to know someone to get them out there. Oh, did I mention that the stands will be humming with about a quarter of a million people? That doesn’t count the thousands more in the infield who may never see a car, but won’t really care.
There was not as much buzz last weekend as the previous year, but that’s understandable. The Speedway pulled out all the stops for the Centennial Celebration. I guess things are “back to normal” this year. But make no mistake; this is still the Indianapolis 500 – the world’s largest single-day sporting event. It’s estimated that close to 400,000 people will be packed into the historic oval at 16th and Georgetown tomorrow. And whenever it’s Race Day at this giant venue, something magical usually happens.
So that’s why I like taking it in on the Saturday afternoon before every race. It is so quiet that my mind can’t help but wander to races from past years. There was the glory of Dan Wheldon’s improbable victory last year. There was the anguish when Parnelli Jones coasted silently down pit lane three laps from what appeared to be a sure victory in 1967. Then there were the tragedies that occurred here, just in my lifetime – Jerry Unser, Bob Cortner, Tony Bettenhausen, Eddie Sachs, Dave McDonald, Chuck Rodee, Mike Spence, Jim Malloy, Art Pollard, Swede savage, Gordon Smiley, Jovy Marcelo, Scott Brayton and Tony Renna all lost their lives after I was born; not to mention all of those that perished here before my day. The loss of Dan Wheldon last October is a sobering reminder that this is still a very dangerous pursuit.
I usually have to be prodded to finally step away from this part of the day. From the quiet solitude of the main straightaway, we make our way back to the car and leave the friendly confines of the track to venture out into the abyss which is Georgetown Road. Here we will see the freak show that is a celebration of tattoos, piercings and body odor. The thing is, I don’t think these people ever sleep during the weekend and I know they never bathe. This is nothing new, however. I can remember these same sights as a wide-eyed six year-old when I first came in 1965. Only the faces and bad dental hygiene have changed.
After that trek through the Sodom and Gomorra, we’ll finally make our way back into civilization. I’d like to think a trip to the Mug-N-Bun will be in order, but it may not happen this year. Inexplicably, a friend of Susan’s is getting married in Bloomington on the night before the 500 – and we are going. I will not comment further, but you probably know my thoughts. Needless to say, I am engaging in my first act as a dutiful husband.
Regardless, it will be an early night tonight as it is every night before the race. To save cash, we stay a little further out. It’s great when we pay the bill, but not so much when we wake up at 3:30 am to leave at 4:30 am on race morning. That hurts even more when you realize that our bodies are set on central time. Susan has already served notice that this may be the last year that we stay outside of Marion County.
With all that goes on in every month of May, plus throw in a secret wedding at a non-traditional marriage venue – it’s been quite a month. Tomorrow, it will all be over and the countdown will begin for the 97th running of the Indianapolis 500. But in three days, we get to go on our honeymoon…