Spitting In The Face Of Tradition
Note From George – There is a lot to write about right now. The return of Tony George to the board of Hulman & Co, the closing of de Ferran Dragon Racing that resulted in Tony Kanaan being out on the street for the second time in five months and the $5 million bonus for the Las Vegas finale are all on the minds of all IndyCar fans. Instead of covering the topics that everyone else is covering, Susan Scruggs has a different topic. I’ve encourage Susan to write whenever the mood hits and when I feel like having a day off. When something happens that she feels passionate about – that’s when the mood hits, whether or not there are more pressing topics. Today is one of those days – GP.
If you’ve been reading George’s site for very long, you know how much stock he puts into tradition. I’m not near as traditional as he is. If you’ve met him, you’ve been underwhelmed by his lack of style in his wardrobe. He never seemed to get past the 1970’s prep look that he had when we were both freshmen at the University of Tennessee. Khaki’s, button-downs, jeans and polos are pretty much it.
His love of traditions in sports is completely understandable, though. Growing up in the south, you naturally become a college football fan before anything else. Going to Tennessee, you become engrained in the fabric of the Southeastern Conference. You have rivals, BIG rivals in the SEC. When we were in school, our biggest rivals were Auburn and Alabama. The conference had no divisions then. We played those schools every year. We hated them both, but respected them just the same. Whenever they played out of conference, we always pulled for them.
Most SEC schools are loaded with tradition. Alabama and Auburn are no exception. Traditions are funny things. They are quirks to outsiders, but revered to those in the know. Auburn has a tradition that whenever there is a big football victory, they will go to a quaint area known as Toomer’s Corner where they will roll the two giant oak trees there with toilet paper.
These two massive oaks are said to be over 130 years old. They stand majestically like the giant tree that a silhouetted Scarlet O’ Hara leaned against in Gone With The Wind, as she stared at her beloved Tara. Generations of Auburn fans have gone to celebrate under the same trees. Those trees had already been standing for thirty years when the first Indy 500 took place.
That has come to a halt. An Alabama fan has seen to that. A fan by the name of Harvey Updike has been arrested, accused of allegedly poisoning the old trees with an industrial herbicide that is designed to kill trees. He first bragged about it to a Birmingham call-in show in January, shortly after Auburn won the national championship. Experts have been brought in to try and save the trees, but it looks like they cannot be helped and are doomed. Who does this?? This isn’t some misguided kid that did this as a college prank in a drug-induced state. This guy was 62 years old!!
Between the two schools, George always pulled for Alabama. In fact, he always pulled for Alabama except when they were playing Tennessee. But he agrees with me that this has gone beyond crossing the line. The worst thing about it is that someone, somewhere will try to top it.
Is there nothing sacred? What is sacred to this savage that did this? Where does this stop?
It makes me think of the traditions at Indy. When it comes to George’s love of traditions at the Indy 500, I’m beginning to get it. The first time I went with him to Indy, was in 2004. We took his daughter and my son Eric, who was 14 at the time. George had tried to explain the traditions and how sacred they were. They made no sense. Like I said earlier, they were quirky. Why would they bring out an old has-been like Jim Nabors to sing an old song that probably nobody knew? If I didn’t get it, I’ll promise you my 14 year old didn’t get it.
I didn’t understand the milk either. Nothing sounded more disgusting than drinking milk after a long, hot day.
It rained a lot that day. It rained before the race, during the race, and then they called the race for good when it started raining again. As we made our way back to our car in the infield during a downpour, the announcement came to take cover because a tornado was headed for the track. Where were we going to take cover? We just kept going, hoping to eventually get to the car. I’ll admit, I wasn’t impressed with my first taste of Indy.
But to my surprise, Eric loved it. The Indy bug bit him. He became a huge Tony Kanaan fan that day, and he started watching all the races that season. When 2005 rolled around, he couldn’t wait to go. The weather was better and I knew what to expect that year. For whatever reason, the traditions started making more sense. I can’t explain why, but it suddenly seemed natural for Jim Nabors to be singing Back Home Again In Indiana. The milk no longer seemed quirky. Instead, it was normal.
Who can explain how traditions get started? If someone says, “let’s start a new tradition”, it never works. These things evolve over time and become sacred to everyone that follows a certain team or sport. Indy has so many things that I now know are sacred: The milk, the singing, “Gentlemen start your engines”, the Purdue band, the yard of bricks, the one hundred years of racing. I don’t pretend to know of all the traditions and their origins, but I know they are sacred to a lot of people. I also know that if anything were defaced at the speedway, George and many others like him would be crushed.
That is why I feel for the fans at Auburn right now.