They Just Don’t Get It

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By now, my friends and co-workers are used to my behavior during the Month of May. They are used to it, but they are still perplexed by it. They don’t get it. I have one co-worker that sort of semi-gets it, because he’s a big NASCAR fan. But I’m not even sure he gets it totally.

Currently, I have the best boss I’ve ever had. I don’t say that to get brownie points here, because I can assure you she’ll never ever read this site. I say it because it’s true. But I think she thinks I’ve lost my mind to travel to Indianapolis three weekends in a row to go visit a race track. When I speak in reverent tones about the hallowed ground at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, she just sort of looks away with a look on her face that says “whatever”.

What is it about the Indianapolis 500 that totally engulfs us die-hard fans, but bewilders our even closest friends as to what comes over us in the Month of May? My first wife didn’t understand it at all, which may explain why she became an ex-wife. I’m very lucky to now be married to someone who not only gets me, but also gets why I love the Month of May so much. Susan is not near as fanatical about the entire event as much as I am, but she understands what it means to me. She also never needs her arm twisted to go there. She enjoys the trips as much as I do, even though she gets terribly bored watching me gawk over the same legendary cars in the museum, year after year.

At work, I think everyone is amused at my enthusiasm for the Indianapolis 500, but I also feel that they think I need my head examined for being so passionate about something that no one in this part of the country gives a hoot about. They just don’t get what the entire month means to us who make the pilgrimage every chance we get.

When my father took my two older brothers to the race in 1964; I wanted to go too, but was told that the age of five was too young to go. I pitched a fit like only a five year-old can. He relented the next year and included our mother and me for 1965. I have more vivid memories of that day than what I had for breakfast this morning. I fell in love with the place, even at that early age. I had no clue what was actually going on in the race, but seeing those brightly colored cars lit up on that clear sunny day was like nothing my six year-old eyes had never seen before. Add in the sounds of the Novi, the Offys and the Ford V8’s and you had one very impressed little boy that day.

In 1967, my father started taking us to Pole Day as well as the race. He also moved our seats from Stand J in Turn Four to under the cover of Stand A, just across from the entrance to Gasoline Alley. We never had garage passes. Any glimpse of the old white and green garages came through my binoculars from our seats, as I tried to steal a first glimpse of the next car to be rolled out. Pole Day lasted longer than Race Day and I learned to look forward to it each year, almost as much as the race itself. Some of my greatest childhood memories from IMS took place on Pole Day.

From the age of six until I was thirteen, the Indianapolis 500 was a huge part of my life. The summer after each race, I would absolutely absorb the program from that race. I would memorize it from cover to cover. I was never much of a reader as a kid, but I read about the Indianapolis 500 as much as I could. While kids in my neighborhood collected baseball cards, I read up on the Indianapolis 500. They thought it odd that my brothers and I would rather race our bicycles around the house instead of playing basketball.

Now that I’m an adult, my contemporaries still think I’m odd. I do love football – college and pro; but it doesn’t compare for my passion for the Month of May and the Indianapolis 500. There is a handful of people in Nashville that know what I’m talking about and I still talk to my brothers about the race – but it’s when I go to the track that I can talk to almost anyone about the race or the traditions and they know exactly what I’m talking about. That’s when I feel like I’m in my element.

My NASCAR following co-worker is amazed at what he thinks I know about the series and the Indianapolis 500. What he doesn’t understand is that my level of knowledge is probably about average among fans at the track. I was reminded how little I knew, when I struck up conversations with other fans at the track last weekend when I was up there. I finally met a Twitter acquaintance last weekend (Ed Pickard – @500OldTimer). His father was a yellow-shirt from 1946 to 1985, while Ed was one from 1976 to 2005. He was fascinating to talk to and his knowledge was unbelievable. I was humbled significantly by what he knew and what I didn’t know.

But the fans in the stands understand why I can focus on nothing else during this month each year. We all share the same distraction. While our co-workers are focused on crunching numbers and working with clients, our minds are filled with concerns about car count, who has the top speed for the day and calculating the best route to the tack on race morning.

But the biggest level of misunderstanding among our friends and co-workers will come next week. We’ll still be trying to recover physically, while we try to cope with the depression of knowing that the race is over, and it will be another year before we feel that sense of magic around the first of May. They won’t understand why we’ll be walking around in a funk. Last year, Susan and I thought we had found the cure for the post-race letdown. We left on our honeymoon the day after we returned from Indianapolis. A seaside retreat with your new spouse can erase the pain of the end of the Month of May, but you can’t go on a honeymoon every year.

So, our cohorts will just have to learn to deal with our giddiness before the race each May, as well as the letdown we feel after the race. They’ll learn to deal with it, but they’ll never understand it. They just don’t get it.

George Phillips

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8 Responses to “They Just Don’t Get It”

  1. When I lived in Indiana and Ohio back in the 70’s and 80’s, I was much more likely to find folks who understood my passion for the race. Many of them, like me, understood that on the (then) two qualifying weekends, I was more than likely going to be at the Speedway, and it was a stone LOCK that I would be at the track for race day, as long as work didn’t intervene.

    Now, I’m in much the same predicament as you, with far more people thinking I’ve somewhat lost my mind, espceially living in the heart of NASCAR country as I do now. The year after my wife and I bought our current house, we invited friends and new neighbors over for a “Race Day America” party, which would traditionally begin with the command, “Gentlemen, Start Your Mimosas,” somewhere around the time the ABC pre-race telecast came on.

    That first year, we learned that most of our guests would not arrive until late afternoon, in time for the NASCAR race at Charlotte. From that time forward, we limitied our invitees to those we knew were at least simewhat interested in Indianapolis, and we generally held a cookout bewtween the races.

    Now having lived here for over 20 years, we seldom host such an event anymore, primarily because by the time the CocaCola 600 gets really going, it’s generally time for a nap. Sometimes we wake up for the end of Charlotte, sometimes we have to spin the DVR back to find out who won.

    Make no mistake, this is not me “pounding” on NASCAR fans; I love racing in MANY forms. But there has never been a doubt that my “day” on that Sunday pretty much begins with the opening of the gates at Indy. Hell, I still listen to the pre-race traffic reports on WIBC or 1070the fan, (and yes, I still miss “Big John” Gillis in the 1070 traffic copter carefully guiding fans to their destination of 16th and Georgetown. For years, “the big guy,” as nice a man as you’d ever want to meet, was as much a part of Indy as cold beer and fried chicken.)

  2. Kyle F. Says:

    They just don’t know what Indy means! A buddy of mine is starting to get into IndyCar and he asked me to explain some of the Indy 500 aura. Three hours later I hadn’t even made it past the traditions of the opening ceremonies. Great post!

  3. I am always hearing from folks, “oh, yeah, you’re into that.” Well, yes I am and so were my parents, grandfather and, now, my son. George, I get it. I am also very excited that race weekend is almost upon us and I am already packed!!!

  4. JPJ Indy Fan Says:

    Totally agree with you George. I am about the same age as you. My father was a former midget driver and my first memories of the Indy 500 were from the early 60s. My father would listen to the radio broadcast of the race. I remember how the reporters would report in sequence around the track as the cars made the pace laps. Then in 1964, they started having the closed circuit TV broadcasts shown at a local theater. I remember the camera showing the leaders going into turn 1 and suddenly switching to a huge plume of smoke in turn 4. Despite the tragedy of that day, I remember how cool it was to actually see the race live for the first time.

    Years later, I was working as an airline pilot and had to work on race day. I got to see the start of the race and the first 50 laps or so in the pilot lounge. During the rest of the race, I was on a flight from the NY area to Miami. Since I was the flight engineer, and not terribly busy, I scanned the AM radio frequencies to find the race. I would listen until that station was out of range, then scan for another one along the way. I was able to hop scotch radio stations all the way to Miami and listened to the end of the race as we started the descent to Miami.

    My son was 12 the first time we went to Indy for time trials. As we were waiting to cross the street to the main entrance, he looked across and saw the main gate with the “Indianapolis Motor Speedway” above it. He said, “Wow! I can’t believe we are really here!”.

    Yes – a lot of people just don’t get it. We just have to keep introducing the next generation to the month of May.

    (Glad I am not the only one who feels down after race day!)

  5. billytheskink Says:

    Some people don’t get it, don’t want to get it, and never will get it. This is fine, unless they feel the need to comment derisively about the sport as if they know what they’re talking about.

    I’m fortunate to have a father who gets it. I have a very good friend who gets it too, maybe more than I do. I also recently discovered that a guy who is doing contract work with my company is an Indiana native and a big auto racing fan (though more motorcycle and Euro-focused). These are blessings.

  6. Jim Legault Says:

    I know exactly what you mean, George. My family moved to Indy from Ohio in the fall of 1960. I was six. One of my earliest memories of Indianapolis, apart from my immediate environment of home, school, and neighborhood, was being at the track on a practice day in 1961. I clearly remember the bricks on the main straight, and my Dad pointing out the Novi and Jack Brabham’s Cooper.

    We went every year on the first Saturday of practice. Then, as I got older, we’d go to the first day of qualifying. You are quite correct. It was a longer day than the race! Later, in high school, I sold the Indianapolis Star at the track on Pole Day, just to get into the track for free.

    My first race, and only one as a kid, was 1967. I was sitting in the Tower Terrace, directly behind Lloyd Ruby’s pit.

    Throughout college, I would always make it to Pole Day, mostly to party. And it was a party back then! I have vague memories of cars on track and that’s about it…

    As a newlywed in 1980 my wife (and we’re still married) and I attended our first race together. Interestingly, I was able to get great seats in the Southwest Vista from IMS on my first try. Since then, we’ve missed but 3 races. We’re now in row KK, Section 17 in the Northeast Vista. I think I’ve found a home!

    So, I’m commenting on your post because we happened to attend the 500 Oldtimers Banquet (aka the Auto Racing Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony and Special Recognition Dinner, as the program states) this evening. We were with over 600 people who all get it. It was great rubbing elbows with Ari and Rutherford, among many other drivers. But mainly it was being in the same room with a bunch of folks that also have the 500 in their blood. They all get the jokes, they all know the back stories. It was a fun, joyful evening.

    Heck, I even ran into Tony George in the men’s room. I said, Hi Tony. He said, How you doing? I said, Never been better!

  7. Dan Loken Says:

    I grew up around racing having a father that raced in the SCCA during my childhood. I remember listening to the race one year over the p/a system at a track somewhere in Kansas. Another time we were sitting in someone’s motor home on a Sunday evening back in the days when the race was tape delayed. I have always felt I was in a minority group being an Indy 500 fan. I would constantly search for news coming out of Indianapolis during the month of May and it proved pretty difficult before the internet. I grew up in Colorado and never missed the race on t.v. as long as I can remember. I made the race 3 times in 24 years making the drive each time with a friend, girlfriend or family member. Being an outsider (not residing in Indianapolis), I always felt like one in one thousand people that had any interest in the Indy 500 but one of the many hidden rewards when at the race- its like being with extended family. I just wanted to relay what a great feeling that is for a road wary traveller. Now I live in Louisville and Indy is a lot closer. I have not met any fans here yet but there are sure to be some somewhere.

  8. Despite a record 68 lead changes, the 2013 edition of the Indianapolis 500 didn’t draw viewers . The race’s 3.8 overnight rating on ABC was its lowest ever, down 7% from 2012 and 12% from 2011. Since the race began to be broadcast live starting in 1986, this year marks the first year where the overnight has dipped below a 4.0, the previous low set in 2010. This also is the first time in history that the race has drawn under a 4.5 rating in five straight years.

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