It’s Finally Race Day!

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Hopefully, by the time you read this – we’ll be safely ensconced inside the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. That would also mean that we did not have a repeat of last year’s fiasco when, for whatever reason, I missed my exit and got ourselves lost in some business park way too far from the track. I wished I had someone to blame, but I don’t. No one was talking. There were no distractions. I just blindly drove past the same exit I have navigated for years in my treks to the track. We finally arrived at the track around 9:45, with yours truly not in the best of moods (I was in a rage).

While anxiously awaiting the first Oilpressure.com post of the day (that was sarcasm, by the way), I thought I might bore you with what has become my typical routine on Race Day. Since yesterday’s post about my typical Saturday was so thrilling, logic would say this would keep your attention even more. If you fall asleep while reading this, make sure you wake up before the race.

There is something special about Race Day morning. It looks, sounds, feels and smells the same as it did when I was growing up in the sixties. Unless you’ve been here on race morning, it’s impossible to understand what I’m talking about. There is an unmistakable buzz that permeates the grounds here at 7:00am. It used to be the late Tom Carnegie’s voice booming on the PA to greet you as you got out of your car. Nowadays it is Dave Calabro that leaves no doubt as to where you are.

The elaborate grill setups that fans put together are already cooking steaks, chicken and brats. Even if you weren’t hungry when you left the hotel at some un-Godly hour, the smell of whatever those in Turn Three are grilling will certainly make your mouth water. One of my early Race Day traditions has been to go to the same little booth under the Tower Terrace to buy my annual “meat sandwich”. I’m not sure when or who started calling it that, but it fits. It’s really a rib-eye sandwich loaded with grilled onions, red & green peppers and mushrooms. I will eat a tenderloin sandwich at some point today, but the meat sandwich is a great way to wake up the taste buds first thing in the morning.

If all goes to plan, I will head up to the media center to put up a post just to let both of my readers know I made it safely inside the track and that all is well. Then ‘ll head out to check everything out.

One of the perks of being a lowly blogger is that we get pit and garage access on race morning. I’ve quickly developed a relatively new tradition of walking pit lane from one end to another, while taking my time. The earlier I can do this, the better. With all of the hustle and bustle of getting into the track, lugging stuff to our seats and dealing with crowds that are increasing by the minute – it’s one of the few places this morning where I can find solitude. As I stroll through pit lane, I always wonder who used each pit. Am I standing where the crew of Bill Vukovich anxiously awaited in for their great champion to come around on that fateful Lap 56 in the 1955 race? Where was it that Rick Mears was set ablaze in a frightening methanol fire in 1981? Which stall was it where Lloyd Ruby pitted while leading in 1969, only to inch forward with the fuel hose still attached – ripping a gaping hole in his fuel tank and ending his chance to win?

As my thoughts drift to races from past years, the flurry of activity for today’s race will generally jolt me back into reality. As we get closer to the start of the race, the cars start heading from the pits to their respective spots on the starting grid. Each year, I’m reminded of my lowly blogger status as I try and sneak onto the track itself. Sometimes, I’m stopped before I can get out there. Other times, I’m mingling around the teams making final preparations before a Yellow Shirt will notice that I don’t have “those” credentials that allow me to be out there. Sometimes they smile, other times they bark – but I always leave the forbidden area with a smile on my face thinking that it was worth a try. At least I get a few good pictures out there.

As the time for the traditional ceremonies draw near, I’ll head back up to the media center one last time before the race. It’s generally frowned upon to wear apparel in the media center that says you are pulling for a particular driver or team, so I generally wear something that says Oilpressure.com, the IZOD IndyCar Series or something sporting the wing & wheel logo of the Speedway. When I finally head to my seats and rejoin my group, I’ll switch into my Marlboro Team Penske shirt –which I’ve worn to every Indianapolis 500 since I can’t even remember when. I wear that shirt one day a year. I wonder how long it’ll last before it rots.

As hot as it’s supposed to be today, I’ll probably change into my third shirt of the day before heading back up to the media center to write a post after the race. I know some of the bloggers stay in the air-conditioned media center to watch the race and post throughout. That’s great if that works for them. As tempting as the air-conditioning may be today, I just wouldn’t feel like I attended an Indianapolis 500 if I didn’t watch it from the stands – and I’m certainly not going to be plugged into a keyboard during the race.

I can remember while growing up, my father couldn’t get us out of the track fast enough after the race. On Lap 190, he already had us gathering our things. When the checkered flag fell, that was our cue to dash for the exits. I can actually remember Bobby Unser’s victory lap in 1968, taking place while we were already under the grandstands and making our escape. Things are different now that I call the shots. I like to stay at our seats and watch the Victory Lane presentation on the video boards and watch the winning driver ride around in the Pace Car.

When the stands have emptied out, that’s when I go to the media center to write a wrap up. By that time, the winning team is already in the interview room and the interview is piped in over the speakers where we sit. I’ve also had time to gather my thoughts about what I just witnessed and type some of them out. Of course, I won’t really know what I saw until I get home and fire up the DVR.

Although the race could be over around 3:30 Eastern time, we generally don’t leave the track until after 6:00. Part of that is because I’m writing, but it’s also because I don’t want to leave. I want to sit and savor it all just a little bit longer. After all, I’ve been dreaming of this for the past year and it’ll be another fifty-one weeks before I’m back on this hallowed ground for qualifying for the 97th running of the Indianapolis 500.

By this time, the adrenaline rush has worn off and the fact that I’ve had very little sleep starts catching up to me. I’m tired – very tired. It’s not unusual for my eyelids to get heavy on the way back to our hotel. We’ll go grab a bite to eat and I’ll sit like a zombie as I eat it. Then, it’s back to the hotel to watch the taped-delayed broadcast on Channel 6. At this point, I rarely last more than twenty laps before I’m snoring away. I will wake up whenever I wake up – go eat the free breakfast downstairs, take a shower and then hit the road for a four hour drive back to Nashville. This year, when we get home, we get to unpack, do laundry, repack and hop on a plane the next morning to start our delayed honeymoon.

If you’ve made it this far through this long and rambling diatribe, it’s probably time to refresh to see if my next post is there. I hope I didn’t bore you, but what else is there to read about as you wait for the telecast to start? OK – go get another cup of coffee. Back in a bit.

George Phillips

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5 Responses to “It’s Finally Race Day!”

  1. Wish I was going to be there, George. I’ll be watching on TV, but it’s just not the same (for one thing, my TV doesn’t serve Tenderloin Sandwiches). There is no way a TV sound system can produce the feeling you feel in your gut as they rev up the engines, and the cars come thundering done the track for the green flag. Have fun!

  2. Ron Ford Says:

    Well, it is before 6 AM here in Wisconsin. Four long hours until the televised activities begin. So, I am sitting here casting about for something, anything (no offense) new to read to fill the time. It is nice to know we can count on you for something. It’s not too early for a bloody mary is it? Of course not! Here’s to a safe but exciting race with my favorite winning by “just a few one thousanths of a second!”

  3. SkipinSC Says:

    George,
    Please. Thre is no shame in missing a turn and winding up somewhere nowhere near the Speedway. There are indivduals in charge of trraffic control there whose main function in life is to create confusion, send people in the wrong direction, and rpoabably have a good laugh about it afterward. I lived there for over half my early life and in spite of knowing EXACTLY where I wanted to go, there alsway seemed to be some auxilliary policeman who wanted to say, (in Bostonese), “Ya cahn’t get theah from heah.”

    Have a breaded tenderloin for me. (Maybe next year when not recovering from surgery, I’ll actually make some of my own.)

  4. Carburetor Says:

    George–Have a great day; I think it is going to be a very interesting race. Lots of fun! Thanks for the posts!

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