Random Thoughts On The Indianapolis 500

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For the first time in probably twenty years, I slept for eleven hours Sunday night. We got back to the hotel, grabbed some to-go food, took it back to the room and turned on the broadcast and promptly fell asleep by Lap Five. We took our time Monday morning and finally started the four-hour drive back to Nashville. We stopped at about halfway at a Steak-&-Shake and it seemed like it took almost another eleven hours to eat. I guess they make the third-stringers work on Memorial Day.

Anyway, I did have time to watch the DVR race broadcast so that I could get a better feel of the race. Now that I’ve seen it and had a day to reflect on everything, I wanted to get some of my thoughts down before I left on my honeymoon on Tuesday. Not to bring up an old subject, but I feel as I did Sunday that Dario Franchitti didn’t drive Takuma Sato down into the grass on the last lap.

One surprise that I did learn from watching the broadcast was how frightening Mike Conway’s crash was. The video board near our seats is small to begin with. Couple that with sun and you just can’t tell much, except that there was a crash and who was involved. The Speedway could do well to invest in some HD video screens, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon. More on that in a bit.

Although Mike Conway was very lucky to not be seriously injured, I think the most fortunate in that incident was Helio Castroneves. Seeing how he barely missed that tire headed right for him was scary. Had that tire hit him in the head, it could have been disastrous.

Although my pick and personal favorite for this race, Tony Kanaan, didn’t win – I’m still pleased with the way this year’s race turned out. Then again, I don’t think I’ve ever left the track mad. OK, in 1965 I left mad because Parnelli Jones finished second to Jim Clark – but I was six years old. I look at this as more of an event than a win/lose competition. Of course, I have my favorites and there are some I would prefer they didn’t win – but if a driver can win the Indianapolis 500, they’ve earned my respect.

TV coverage: Overall, I was very pleased with the ABC/ESPN telecast. The pre-race show was one of their best. The opening was good, maybe not quite up to last year’s standards – but that would be hard to top. They had good camera angles, the cars looked great in the bright sunlight and I thought their pit work was solid. They have redeemed themselves since their only other telecast this season – that terrible showing at St. Petersburg back in March.

Other than a few flubs from the booth, I thought they did an excellent job – maybe one of their best in years. Minor mistakes from the booth are forgivable. Not that I’ve ever done it, but I hear that live broadcasting can be mind-boggling. we should understand if a car or driver is misidentified every now and then.

On the cheap: Throughout the two weekends I spent at IMS this month, there was this subtle subconscious feeling that things were done a little bit on the cheap this year. I realize that comparing this year to last year is an unfair comparison. All stops were pulled out for the Centennial Celebration last year, but there was this palpable feel of budget cuts throughout the grounds. Last week, I noticed how small the official program had gotten. When I got home from the qualifying weekend, I compared it to some of years past and I was right. It was still as thick, but the dimensions have shrunk. This year’s version is about a half-inch more narrow and a half-inch shorter. I suppose that saves a lot of paper when you consider they probably print close to a half-million programs, but that doesn’t mean we have to like it.

I had a lengthy conversation on Race Day morning with a Yellow Shirt whose location will remain a mystery to not incriminate him. I mentioned that we had noticed many young faces wearing the familiar yellow garb, that didn’t seem to have a clue this year. He told me that the new regime had made many changes to save costs. He revealed that two years ago, his station was manned with six Yellow Shirts at any given time. This year, it’s two. The disgruntled official also explained that many of the “old hands” quit after last year and they have replaced them with “clueless kids” that know nothing and are rude. I can vouch for the rude part. Normally, the Yellow Shirts are very friendly (so long as you’re obeying the rules). Many in this year’s crop seemed to have an attitude.

The merchandise in the gift shop was very ordinary and perhaps for the first time ever, I returned with no souvenirs other than my program. One name that was curiously absent throughout the gift shops was IZOD. Maybe I missed it, but I saw no IZOD apparel at all. The only thing I saw in the gift shop that said “IZOD” was merchandise that had the series logo on it.

This was probably my imagination, but even the bulbs in the scoring pylon looked weak. I’ve been in the same seats during bright sunny days before, and never had a problem reading the numbers. It wasn’t just me. Others around me were having the same problem. Maybe IMS management got a good deal on some cheap bulbs, but it made the information hard to read.

Finally – and this probably has nothing to do with IMS management – I had written earlier about my traditional “meat sandwich” which is (was) a grilled rib-eye on a French roll with peppers and onions. This year, the meat was thinly sliced small pieces placed on a regular hamburger bun. That tradition may have seen it’s last run this year.

Pre-race ceremonies: This may or may not be related to cost-cutting, but the pre-race ceremonies were a major disappointment for me. Being the traditionalist I am about this race, I put a lot of stock in the pre-race ceremonies and there were a lot of minor gaffes. First of all, the PA system was turned up way too loud to handle the singing – it also made Florence Henderson’s rendition of God Bless America sound worse than usual.

There was also a rushed and disjointed feel to what can be my favorite part of the day. At the track, PA announcer Dave Calabro introduced Martina McBride to sing the National Anthem. Then there was a long pregnant pause before she started singing. On television, Brent Musburger tried to hand it off to Calabro but McBride started singing.

The traditional singing of Back Home Again In Indiana was as awkward as I expected it would be. They tried using a recording in 2007 when Jim Nabors couldn’t make it and it didn’t go well. I’m not sure why they thought this would be any different. It wasn’t. The balloons usually fly when the song is singing. Someone apparently missed the cue, because they didn’t turn them loose until the cars were already rolling.

The one highlight was the video honoring Dan Wheldon just before the playing of Taps. It was tasteful and moving. Then when Bryan Herta took to the track during Taps, even my dry eyes felt a little moisture. In my opinion, that one moment saved the day for the pre-race ceremonies.

All in all: The race itself was tremendous. With all of the questions going in about the new cars, the durability of the engines and the engine shortages – who knew what to expect? But except for a lull after Bryan Clausen’s spin, it was a very entertaining race. With a record number of lead changes, this was certainly no parade. The last thirty laps were about as engaging was you could hope for. Then with the excitement of the last lap, this one will certainly be one remembered and talked about for a long time.

George Phillips

Please Note: This will be my last post for several days. Early Tuesday morning, we are hopping on a plane to begin our belated honeymoon. We delayed it by a week to attend the Indianapolis 500, but I think it would lead to a quick divorce if I were to blog throughout my honeymoon. Therefore, I will take the rest of this week off from here and part of the following week as well. I’m not sure what next week holds, but I may sneak in a post right after the Belle Isle race. Anyway, thanks for following along here during the month of May. I’m already looking forward to next year.

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22 Responses to “Random Thoughts On The Indianapolis 500”

  1. The timing of the Herta lap was awful. Under no circumstances, including that one, should a car be pushed out in the middle of Taps.

    Isn’t it a tradition that the crowd is silent during Taps?

    Then he came up on the back of the field who was late pushing off and he was stuck down there awhile.

    It was awkwardly timed on the track, and it came off terribly on tv, because the crowd went silent and then started cheering.

    Oh, and I’m shocked Taku didn’t do something retarded until lap 200, thankfully it only screwed up his day, well and a checkered flag finish.

    AJ owes The Captain a racecar, he’s very lucky he doesn’t owe him two of them. AJ is still pissed off the cars have rear engines, I guess he also thinks racecars don’t need front wings heading into the most difficult turn in racing at 220 mph.

    • The effect of the lone car of Wheldon’s provided a poignent moment. AJ owes the captain nothing. For an old man, he’s kept ip pretty well. Get over yourself and happy weekday to you too.

    • billytheskink Says:

      AJ may not think race cars need front wings, but he at least accepts the fact that they need to exit the pits with 4 wheels. That’s more than we can say for the Captain…

  2. Mike Lis Says:

    Sato should have waited but, Dario blocked him! Halfway down the straightaway Franchitti pulled down 10 feet, then he took a very low entrance into the corner. How is that not a block? He knew he was beat! It was a block.

    • Dario is allowed by the rules to defend his position and he did say that after that defensive move he moved back up to not get penalized for blocking. Dario’s move is no different from the countless other we saw in the first 4 races this season…the moves that the fans were cheering about. I think people are upset because it was Dario not because he defended. If it had been Dixon or TK everyone would be cheering the move!

    • Alan G. Says:

      Ever since Beaux Barfield became chief steward, drivers can defend their positions so long as they leave a car’s width and an inch for the person behind them. Dario did just that, moving inside down the straight and then back outside when he knew Sato would have the run on the inside into the corner to set his car up for the outside line. Sato lost the car in the corner because he was on the white line for the majority of the turn, and never got down to the grass or rumble strips until he lost the rear end. The onboard of Dario’s car shows that there is still room between the two cars all the way through the corner.

  3. Very much appreciate your insightful and fair observations on how the race was conducted, George. I had heard a few similar rumblings but nobody had posted anything and I wasn’t there, so I was glad to read this.

  4. Enjoy your honeymoon George and forget about racing while you are gone.
    Dario, the crafty veteran, did exactly what he needed to do on that last lap and knew the rule and followed it. Sato, tried to do something that won’t work. It didn’t work for Danny Sullivan (he got very lucky) it didn’t work for Milka Duno (she was having a good first 500 till she tried the same move with the same result), it didn’t work for Stan Fox on lap one (the Sunday photos reminded me of those I took of the Fox crash).
    Younger drivers often take what they see as an opening, not realizing what they see is a way in with no way out. Veterans such as Kanaan, as he showed with multiple passes on that late restart, recognize a way in and out.
    Sato is improving and learning and will be a winner in this series.
    So will Oriol Servia who was in position to win that race had it run all the way to the checkered flag.

  5. I wouldn’t let anyone pass me on the last lap of the Indy 500 either. Love that Sato went for it though.

    The timing was off with the intro of the anthem, balloons, taps and the Weldon car. Sounds like IMS needs a stage manager.

    And some tv’s. And a new sound system. Too bad TG blew all that dough on the F1 track instead of infrastructure.

    You didn’t mention spending time in the Snake Pit disco, George? Nice to know they played dance music during the race for those with short attention spans.

    Speaking of F1, why are the marks still on the front straightaway for the F1 cars? Just a reminder of what happens when you do bidness with Ecclestone? Or do they use those for the bike race?

    Good job, George. Enjoy your time off.

  6. Gurney Eagle Says:

    The bulbs in the scoring pylon have been week for years. We cannot read them from Turn 1. We use the Pagoda or the scoreboard in the south chute but neither one of them shows more than the top ten places.

    “Taps” has been a mess ever since they let ABC turn it into a television event.

    I hope the Speedway takes a look at the entire pre-race fiasco. Changes are sorely needed.

  7. Yes, I noticed that the timing of the pre-race seemed a little disjointed. Sitting on the A-stand side of the pylon, we could see the bulbs clear enough, but noticed that several were out. It made it tough distinguishing some of the numbers. Can’t speak to the quality or quantity of the yellow shirts we saw this weekend.

    My biggest beef had to do with the people camped next to us in Lot 3G on Friday night, the so called “low key family atmosphere”. I’m cool with a little partying, but these folks stayed up until dawn, taking a break only long enough to go to the strip club, before returning and cussing loudly until well past dawn. Apparently they thought it was the Coke Lot. Not the atmosphere that IMS advertised when I bought the camping pass. I was surprised at the total lack of any yellow shirt presence in the campground. We could have used that guy from Gasoline Alley with the loud whistle.

    Thank god my 11 yr. old is a sound sleeper, but I did not sleep the whole night. Around 4 am I fired up my smartphone, and made a hotel reservation by the airport for Saturday night. Live and learn!

    On the plus side, we both learned a lot of new swear words. Also, we hit Charlie Brown’s for breakfast on Saturday, and loved the pancakes. Also loved the rootbeer floats at the Mug n’ Bun. Thanks for the tip on that one.

    Already renewed the tickets for next year, and am counting the days.

  8. Pretty sweet weekend and I enjoyed every second of it. Seeing Wheldon’s 98 car come out during taps with Bryan Herta behind the wheel took my breath away and afterwards I commerated the moment for my son by getting him one of the Greenlight cars. He had a wonderful time, too, and expects me to get our tickets for next year this week. As for the race, it was thrill after thrill, after thrill!

  9. Mike Silver Says:

    I agree the pre-race ceremobnies were dragged out longer than they shiould have been. Incredible fail on the balloons. This is a trend that hase been happening the last couple years. Seems they keep adding stuff. Pre-race needs to be tighter and build up to the start more dramatically.

  10. Tim Cronin Says:

    One pre-race tradition returned this year, with Dave Calabro reading the old Jim Phillippe script: “On this Memorial Day weekend, we pause here, in a moment of silence to pay homage to those individuals, who have given their lives, unselfishly and unafraid, to make it possible for us, as free men and women, to enjoy the world’s greatest sporting event. We also pay homage to those individuals, who have given their lives, unselfishly and unafraid, to make racing the world’s most spectacular spectator sport.” I even e-mailed someone at the track suggesting it after we lost Dan Wheldon; they did it anyway, right before “Taps.” And the tribute to Wheldon on the video board was perfect. Many a tear was shed in my little corner of Turn 1.

  11. Travis R Says:

    I also found the pre-race ceremonies to be a bit messy. I don’t know how many times they said “please rise and remove your hats” for parts that weren’t the national anthem. While “God Bless America” is a nice song and all, it’s not the national anthem…

    Also, to add to the section regarding the cost-cutting, did anybody else go to the track on Saturday and get charged $10 per person just to go in, not including the museum? I swear it has always been free to get into the track on Saturday.

    I got some sunscreen in my eyes when Bryan Herta took that lap in DW’s car. Now if people would just be quiet during Taps, that would be nice.

  12. JHall14 Says:

    Pre-race has been disjointed for quite some time. It used to flow so well before ABC stuck it’s nose into it. It was Jerry Baker who read Jim Phillippe’s script, not Dave Calabro. I would agree, pre-race needs some help, whether it is timing, less commercials, better sound system, all need to be addressed. The race was the best I have seen in 53 straight years, since 1960. The new “Snake Pit” acrosss from us in Turn 3, you heard a few “F” bombs from the DJ, however only 1 sorry soul jumped the fence, only to be met by a couple State Police officers. All in all, still a great day at IMS, there never is a bad day! Maybe we are all a little spoiled?

  13. George B. Says:

    I am surprised nobody has commented on the crackdown on coolers on Carb Day. This was the first time in the twenty five plus years I have been going to the track that they enforced the 14″x14″x14″ rule. It was an absolute fiasco at the turn 4 enterance. Coolers were piled up on the fence. What bothered me more was that they seem to be inconsistent in the enforcement of the policy. I had to go all the way back to my RV and find some smaller coolers. I got back and went into the track to find coolers as big or bigger than the one I tried to bring in. I found the whole cooler crackdown shameful and another way IMS was trying to boost their revenue to force patrons to buy their smaller coolers or food and beverages inside. I don’t see this as a way to grow the fan base. They did seem to ease up on the restriction on race day because of the heat or flack they took from disgruntled customers on Friday. I hope next year they go back to the more relaxed rules or send out mass communications beforehand they will be enforcing the cooler restriction rule.

  14. I’ve never understood why ABC insists on screwing with the pre-race. Why was Musberger allowed to introduce Jim Nabors and mess up the name of the song? Why can’t TV show the invocation? They do for NAPCAR races.

    How hard is it to release a bunch of balloons? That’s at least twice in recent memory that that has been fouled up.

    I had to chuckle when a pimply-faced kid with a yellow shirt and hat told me to “enjoy the race!”…….on Carb Day. I hope he meant the Freedom 100, but somehow I doubt it. Definitely a cluelessness about many of the yellow shirts this year.

    I heard about the cooler problem on Carb Day, but don’t really care since the only day I actually take a cooler is Race Day, and it’s within regs. How big of a cooler does a person really need? The “official but don’t tell anyone” Race Day policy was “if you can carry it in your hands you can bring it in” because of the heat.

    I got to the track with my kids about 2:00 on the day before the race and sailed in scott free. They were also letting people in free on Pole Day at the gate behind the SE Vista. Whether it was intentional or not is up for debate, but that’s what was happening since there was nobody on the gate half the time. We were watching from the stands and people had some great reactions.

    All in all there was definitely a feel in the air that costs were being cut. People noticed and, except for Belskus and The Sisters, nobody liked it.

    Positives:

    They nailed the flyover once again.

    Jerry Baker reading the Phillippe lines was nice to hear. Let’s do that every year from now on.

    The race was terrific.

    Sorry for the rant, but this stuff gets under my skin. I guess I care too much. :)

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