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.