When To Start The Indianapolis 500?
For the most part, I am glad to hear that there may be a possibility of moving the start of the Indianapolis 500. For years, the race started at 11:00 am local time. In 2005, IMS officials decided that moving the green flag back one hour to a noon start would increase viewership – especially on the west coast. The following year, Indiana made the change to Daylight Savings Time, which moved the start of the race to 1:00 pm local time.
Indiana was unique in that it was one of the few states that never adopted Daylight Savings Time. Instead, they were on Eastern Standard Time throughout the entire year. It was confusing to those of us, like myself, that live in the Central Time Zone. In the winter months, Indianapolis was always an hour ahead of us; but in the summer months, we were both on the same time. I would imagine it would be even more confusing living there. TV programs that came on at 8:00 pm in the spring came on at 9:00 pm in the fall. When the state of Indiana decided to adhere to Daylight Savings Time, there was some debate whether Indiana should adopt itself to the eastern or Central Time Zone. They ultimately decided on the Eastern Zone. So to the local Hoosiers, it appears that the race starts two hours later prior to 2005 – but to the rest of us, it’s still only one hour later than it used to be.
To me, the biggest effect that the switch to Daylight Saving Time had on the Indianapolis 500 was not on Race Day, but practice and qualification days. The extra hour of daylight essentially did away with “happy hour” because the shadows of the main grandstands that would always cool the main straightway are no longer there. This affects team strategy regarding the best time to qualify. In the past, it used to be that it was best to wait until the last minute to take advantage of the cooler track. Since 2006, the teams have opted for the first hour of qualifying in the day – when it’s coolest.
The idea that has been proposed is for the Speedway to move the time back to its “original” 11:00 am starting time. In essence, this would be an hour earlier than the original starting time. It gets confusing so let me try to simplify it. Before 2005, the race always started at 11:00 Nashville time. Every year since 2005, it has been a noon starting time in Nashville. With this proposed change, it would be a 10:00 starting time in Nashville – with the pre-race starting at 9:00. Move that to the west coast and it translates to a 7:00 am pre-race show and an 8:00 am start. That’s a little early.
Selfishly, I am looking at how it affects me. For the last few years, I have chosen the cheap route and have been staying in Columbus, which is about thirty-five to forty miles south of Indianapolis on I-65. We can stay two nights for less than the cost of one night on the outskirts of Indy. I like parking in the infield, which means we have to get there early before it fills up. Consequently, we have to leave our hotel at 4:30 am – something that doesn’t go over to well with teenagers – in order to be inside the track before 8:00. I can only imagine what moving the schedule up two hours will do to our plans.
The whole idea behind an earlier start is to accommodate drivers who might want to run the “double” – the Indianapolis 500 that day and the NASCAR race in Charlotte that night. I’m not sure how many takers there will be among the NASCAR set, even if they do change the time.
First of all, at the same time that IMS changed the starting time to noon in 2005, NASCAR and FOX moved the start of the Charlotte race up an hour making the travel window for drivers attempting the double practically non-existent. Even if IMS did move the starting time up to 11:00 am EDT, who is to say that NASCAR wouldn’t adjust their schedule again? I wouldn’t expect any cooperation from NASCAR to make the double possible. Although it would generate some slight buzz, the buzz would benefit the Indy 500 more than NASCAR.
Practically any driver wanting to attempt the double would be a driver that had already driven the Indy 500; and would probably mostly involve the same that have done it in the past; John Andretti, Robby Gordon and Tony Stewart. Sam Hornish and Juan Montoya would be likely additions to the list. I see no way on earth that Jeff Gordon, Dale Jr., or Jimmie Johnson would ever attempt the double. The week before the Brickyard 400, Dale Jr. made headlines saying that he would like to drive the Indy 500 sometime. That is not the same as saying he will drive it. I would like to go to Homestead for the season finale. More than likely, I won’t be there.
Even if the starting time changed, there is no guarantee that any drivers would be able to do it, even if they wanted to. No manufacturer in NASCAR is going to relish the idea of one of their drivers getting into a car powered by Honda. With only one exception, every time the double has been attempted in the past, the drivers drove for the same manufacturer. John Andretti went from Ford to Ford in 1994, the first time anyone ran the double. Robby Gordon went from GM to GM (Olds to Chevy) in 1997 and in 2002 (Chevy to Chevy); Tony Stewart went from GM to GM (Olds to Pontiac) in 1999 and 2001. The only time a driver drove for two different manufacturers in the two races was in 2003; when Robby Gordon subbed for the injured Dario Franchitti at Indy in an AGR Dallara-Honda and then drove a Chevy that night for Richard Childress.
When Tony Stewart hopped into an AJ Foyt "Tah-yota" in 2004, playing with the possibility of running it – Chevy stepped in and put a stop to it before the car got out of the garage. In this age of bailouts and woes of automakers, manufacturers aren’t too willing to have their drivers hopping into a car powered by a competitor.
I’m certainly not opposed to changing the starting time of the race, but they shouldn’t change it strictly with doing the double in mind. In my opinion, I think that IMS should move the starting time of the race up one hour to a noon local start. By the sun, that IS the original starting time. Viewers in other states would see it as the traditional starting time prior to 2005. It gives an extra hour of daylight in the case of a rain delay, but doesn’t cause major travel concerns and changes for those attending the race. It also starts the race and pre-race coverage at a more acceptable time on the west coast. More importantly, I wish they would adjust the practice and qualifying days to adhere to the previous “sun” schedule. That would make qualifying begin at noon and take it to 7:00 pm local time each day.
Moving the starting time around to accommodate a few NASCAR drivers is absurd. The Indianapolis 500 has been around a lot longer than the World 600 or Coca-Cola 600 or whatever they call the thing. If NASCAR drivers are genuinely interested in running both races, they should petition NASCAR to make changes to accommodate them. Memorial Day has been synonymous with racing for ninety-nine years. It isn’t because of NASCAR.