Normally, I tend to take the opening race of the Verizon IndyCar Series at face-value. After all, it seems that more times than not – the winner of the season-opening race does not go on to win the championship. Sometimes, they are not even a contender. Take for instance, last year’s winner James Hinchcliffe. He won the opener at St. Petersburg, but went on to have a very up and down season. He won three races, yet had so many DNF’s, that he finished a very distant eighth place in points. Two years ago, Helio Castroneves won at St. Petersburg and finished a forgettable fourth in points.
Every race has one signature moment. A couple of weeks after it has transpired, you usually look back and think of one moment that automatically identifies that particular race. For me, the signature moment for yesterday’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg was undoubtedly Will Power causing an accordion effect on a restart. Whether it was intentional or not, the result was Marco Andretti and Jack Hawksworth having their race end on Lap 83.
When the green flag drops for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg this weekend, it will be the tenth time for the Verizon IndyCar Series to visit the streets of St. Petersburg. That’s really hard to believe. It seems like yesterday that the Indy cars made their first-ever competitive right-hand turn at this track in 2005. Up until that point, the series ran on ovals exclusively. That year, St. Petersburg was the third race on the IndyCar schedule, after Homestead and Phoenix respectively. It was to be the first of three road/street courses that season – to be followed by Sonoma and Watkins Glen.
Late yesterday afternoon, I saw the news that I never wanted to admit would someday come. This year’s Indianapolis 500 will be the last time that Jim Nabors sings Back Home Again in Indiana. I was there the first time when he sang it in 1972, and I feel honored that I will be there when he sings it for the thirty-fifth and final time. People have their personal favorite traditions for the Month of May. Some live for the release of balloons. The command to start engines always brought tears to my father’s eyes. For me, it’s always been the singing of Back Home Again in Indiana that makes the goosebumps appear. To hear that distinctive baritone voice of Jim Nabors reverberating through the stands has always been the signature moment for the Indianapolis 500.
For the first time in twenty-three weeks, we can finally say that it’s race week. The Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg runs this Sunday, with the first practice to be held on Friday morning. Except for the beginning of the Month of May, it’s one of my favorite times of the year. While I have been intrigued with the run my Tennessee Vols are currently enjoying in the NCAA Tournament (who would’ve thought Sweet 16?); my idea of March Madness is the long-awaited start of the season for the Verizon IndyCar Series.
Racing dynasties are always an interesting topic among race fans. It’s always a lively discussion to debate whether the Andrettis or the Unsers are the most regal among IndyCar royalty. The Vukovich family also had three generations to race in the Indianapolis 500. The Andretti family is known for its hard luck at Indianapolis. The Unsers had great success at Indianapolis, but have had their share of embarrassing issues off the track.